Youngkin’s telecommuting changes could make public jobs less competitive with private companies, expert says

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A new policy aims to bring state employees back to the office and limit telecommuting. Some say it risks making state government jobs less competitive with the private sector.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin is backing what his administration calls the state’s first telecommuting policy update in more than a decade. The change affects more than 55,000 employees at 65 state agencies.

The new rules, effective July 5, state that Virginia state employees will “return to the physical workplace.” The guidelines say that returning to the office before that date is “strongly encouraged, but not required”.

The policy also directs agency heads to “highlight and inform employees that teleworking is a benefit available to employees, rather than a Commonwealth obligation”.

Those wishing to pursue telecommuting will need to seek additional approval at increasingly higher levels depending on the number of remote days requested per week.

  • Require approval from an agency head
    • One day per week is requested as a telework day
    • Temporary telecommuting, no more than two weeks, for temporary circumstances such as family illness, school closure, weather advisories, etc.
  • Require Cabinet Secretary Approval
    • Two days a week are requested as telework days
  • Require Governor’s Chief of Staff Approval
    • More than two days per week are requested as telework days

State employees who wish to continue working remotely can begin applying on Friday, May 6. Submissions must be submitted by May 20 and the review process should be complete by June 3.

In a statement, Governor Youngkin said creative and effective solutions come from regular face-to-face interaction in the workplace.

“From day one, my commitment to having a top-notch government serving all Virginians has been clear, these updates balance the demands of government services with the needs of our public servants,” Youngkin said.

The Youngkin administration did not make anyone available for an interview on Friday.

Roshni Raveendhran, assistant professor of business administration at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, said the state’s new policy is consistent with broader economic change. She said studies have shown productivity hasn’t suffered from remote work and many prefer the flexibility it offers.

“The general trend in the workforce is that there is no return to pre-pandemic normalcy. So we have to have a new approach and it is, in most cases, a hybrid approach,” said Raveendhran. “State policy certainly reflects that, but I see friction.”

Notably, Raveendhran said state policy is more rigid than what is becoming increasingly common in the private sector.

“It’s a lot less flexible and the autonomy is probably going to feel a bit infringed because now they have to feel comfortable making these requests,” Raveendhran said. “I think the key would be to create a psychologically safe environment for employees to speak up and feel comfortable explaining why this flexibility is important to them.”

The policy shift comes as the state government is already struggling to keep pace with private companies on payments. Raveendhran said limiting flexibility will likely lead to inconvenience in recruiting and retaining staff.

“If they want to stay competitive in this market and retain talent, which is really hard to do these days, they need to be able to meet and exceed people’s expectations, because it’s not the other way around. at this point,” Raveendhran said.

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