The Foreign Service Journal, June 2021

48 JUNE 2021 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL STATE VP VOICE | BY TOM YAZDGERDI AFSA NEWS Telework: Productive and Family Friendly Years ago, many people at the State Department viewed teleworking as somehow less than real work. Supervisors were sometimes hesitant to approve telework agreements. Department leaders and supervisors had the lingering feeling that employees who teleworked were not being productive enough. However, the pandemic has led to dramatic changes in how work is done and where, and has shown us on a national level that the tradi- tional workplace will never be the same, and that employees who telework can be at least as productive as those who come into the office. Citing a Department of Defense Inspector General report, the April 5 Govern- ment Executive found that nearly 90 percent of Pentagon employees said they were as productive, if not more so, when teleworking rather than working from the office. At State, the results of sur- veys conducted department- wide and by individual mis- sions and bureaus tell much the same story. After some initial technical issues with access, the vast majority of employees—Foreign Service, Civil Service, locally employed staff, contractors and eligible family members—have been able to log in to OpenNet and other applications and work productively. Reimagine Telework Pilot. In December 2020 AFSA received a briefing from members of the department’s Reimagine Task Force on its pilot Telework Eligibility Framework Initiative, which began in October 2020. The task force looked at which State positions lent them- selves to telework. Pilot results showed that 54 percent of bureau employ- ees were actively teleworking. The team drew on data col- lected across 10 bureaus cov- ering 532 positions to create a “Telework Eligibility Score” as guidance in determining eligibility for telework. The team found that more positions than anticipated lent themselves to some form of telework, with bureaus such as Educational and Cultural Affairs garnering higher telework scores, while other bureaus, such as Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor scored comparatively lower, as they typically deal with classified information. The team also found that supervisors were surprised at the ease of scoring positions and the number of telework options available, and that they themselves could tele- work. Use of the program framework was mandatory in determining eligibility, but the scores were then used only as guidance, which allowed supervisors to retain flexibility concerning positions “on the cusp” that did not reach the qualifying score. While Senior Foreign Service positions tended to move away from telework eligibility, one of the team’s top priorities is to find ways to increase teleworking among those who require access to classified information. The team expressed confidence that this would be achievable over the next three years. Guidance on balancing tele- work within an office has been drafted and an implementa- tion guide is currently being prepared. But initial plans to share the initiative’s results in a January town hall event and complete bureau assessments identifying employee needs (with projected implementa- tion in late February or March) have been delayed. AFSA hopes this initiative will pick up steam in the near future so that more bureaus and offices are included, and we all can see the results for ourselves. AFSA’s Position. AFSA strongly supports this initiative, not only because telework has proven itself, but because such initiatives can help change the work culture at State. Changing this culture will no doubt pay dividends in increased productivity and help with retention. Indeed, the results of the AFSA retention survey con- ducted last winter indicated that among all survey respon- dents, the number one work concern was impact on family. Among those who actually left the Service, family was the top reason cited. And we know that having work flex- ibility, including telework, will promote strong families and work-life balance. That is why AFSA has included in its recommenda- tions to the Biden administra- tion the adoption of clear poli- cies in domestic and overseas environments that permit appropriate telework and remote work arrangements. This includes moderniza- tion of Foreign Affairs Manual policies on technology and security to better support mobile/remote work and a technology subsidy for all employees to support blended work environments and remote work. Next Steps. We will work with the department to build on the success of telework and make it an integral part of our work culture so that State can better compete with other government agencies and the private sector. At a recent meeting with AFSA leadership one high- level department official asked if people would ever come back to work. Of course, at some point, most of us will physically return to the office. But the more important question is: How can we use the experience of the pan- demic to make the workplace more attractive so that being both a productive employee and caring family member are not mutually exclusive propositions? We look forward to hearing your views at member@afsa. org. n Contact: | (202) 647-8160