Another agency calls feds back to the office—but not full-time

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The VA has announced its plans to begin, in the coming months, its implementation of a partial return to the office for employees.

The Veterans Affairs Department will institute its “new normal” in the workplace by the end of May, the agency announced on Tuesday, with employees trickling back into the office but not expected to work there full time. 

The first major cadre of employees who have been working remotely throughout the COVID-19 pandemic returned to the office last week, VA Deputy Secretary Donald Remy said, with non-bargaining unit staff kicking off the effort. Union employees will make their return over the next two months, though much of the VA workforce report to a health care facility and therefore have consistently remained at their normal worksites. 

VA has solicited feedback from employees on its future of work decision making, studied lessons learned over the last two years and bargained with labor groups. As a result, the department is shifting to a hybrid work environment. 

“We’ll be transitioning to the future of work over the next few months, establishing a new normal that will help keep the best employees at VA, bring the best employees to VA and most of all, make sure all of those employees are safe at VA,” Remy said. 

Employees will only have to come into the office a certain number of days each week, he explained, as far more telework opportunities will be available. Each day, he added, some employees will be in their offices while others will be at home. Remy said during the pandemic, VA learned how successful the department can be without requiring everyone to come to their duty stations. Of course, a majority of VA employees are nurses, physicians, housekeepers and others in a health care setting where in-person attendance is typically required. 

Most federal agencies have begun transitioning employees back to their offices in recent months, though the Biden administration has pressed agencies to build more telework and hybrid environments into their permanent plans.  

As a result of federal employees' demonstrated ability to carry out their duties apart from their supervisors and colleagues, Office of Personnel Management Director Kiran Ahuja said in recent guidance, agencies "have an opportunity to revisit how they were operating prior to the pandemic and leverage lessons learned to integrate telework and remote work into their strategic workforce plans.” Agencies have since begun spelling out how their hybrid workplaces will take shape. 

VA has rolled out several plans to boost recruiting and retention at the department in recent weeks, such as boosting bonuses, building new facilities and expanding child care benefits. It also pushed Congress to pass legislation to allow it to pay nurses and physician assistants more, which lawmakers did as part of an omnibus funding bill earlier this month. VA is looking to increase pay at other professions and create additional incentives to help reduce vacancies. 

“We’ve got a lot more to do to invest in our workforce,” Remy said.

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