The coronavirus pandemic has created a work environment where many companies and employers are allowing their employees to work from home fully when possibly. This is a big shift firms allowing only some or partial remote work, but still requires some onsite presence. The shift to fully remote work makes sense because it keeps people safe during the peak of the outbreak. The pandemic has changed our work, especially how our work relates to geographic locations.
Lawmakers are also wrestling with the same challenges as employers across the world right now. Lawmakers want to keep politicians and their staff members safe during the pandemic, but they also want to ensure the integrity of the work. Allowing Congress to work from home is now becoming a hot-button issue.
There are two policy discussions relating to fully remote work that are worth noting. The first issue, that actually came up in mid-late 2019, was decentralizing Government bureaus administrative presence into different locations throughout the United States. The logic for the proposal was simple. By decentralizing these bureaus, for example, allowing the Economic Development Administration (EDA) to re-locate its offices into Sioux Falls, Missouri, the United States Government could save on the cost of overhead, which would likely be significantly less expensive than Washington D.C., and it would give workers from a different ‘walk-of-life’ the opportunity to serve their Government. The archetypal Washington bureaucrat could apply as well but having them live outside of the “Beltway Bubble,” is probably a good cultural change for any Government agency currently.
This legislation, championed by Senators Blackburn and Hawley, will unfortunately take a back seat as America deals with the more important issues of keeping people safe during the coronavirus pandemic and Renovating America’s Economy Post Pandemic.
The decentralization of Government agencies, in combination with allowing policymakers to work remotely, now creates an agenda for “Fully” Remote Federal Government operations.
There are many additional reasons why decentralizing policymaking and legislation improves the quality of their work. For example, legislators may build stronger relationships with their constituents and have more time to dive into the issues because they travel less. Allowing workers the benefits and opportunities of a fully remote career is now becoming an issue of competitiveness.
As the crisis settles down, and work gets back to work, the American Government must not lose out on the best and brightest simply because they require workers to work in an old office without windows, or that they require employers to stay in one spot for their entire lives.
I propose adding one more aspect to the “fully” remote decentralization agenda. The Federal Government should decentralize its agencies geographically, into communities across the United States. But they should also establish more flexibility in employment guidelines so that workers could work out of other locations when possible. In a sense, the Federal Government should offer a type of coworking space for all Federal employees.
If an employee for the Department of Agriculture wanted to travel with her family and enjoy the benefits that other “fully” remote workers enjoy on a daily basis, then they would be more likely to choose the Federal Government. But it would also improve their work. That employee might have the opportunity to travel back to ‘Sioux Falls’ to share office space for the temporary duration of his trip with employees from the Economic Development Administration.
Decentralizing the Federal Government’s bureaucracy and encouraging worker travel will help Federal workers build stronger relationships with policymakers at the local level. For example, a worker who is preparing an analysis of a specific sector of the manufacturing economy, might spend a week or two or a month visiting first-hand small manufacturers in the Industrial Northeast part of the United States.
What could be a better policy proposal to build relationships between Federal Government bureaucrats who are often seen at the local level as both out of touch and operating from their ‘Ivory Tower,’ than allowing the strength of the human bond, accelerated by just a little bit of travel, to flourish across Governments local and National?