Whining and cheese make the back-to-office debate spicy

They may be employees of LaClare Family Creamery, a goat cheese maker in Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin, that Republican Congressman Glenn Grothman passes on his way home.

Or the folks at Old World Creamery, a family-owned food manufacturer in Sheboygan, Wisconsin that has been around since 1912.

No matter which of the many cheese factories in his home district Rep. Grothman was referring to, he seems to believe that federal employees and those who make cheese have a lot in common.

“When I go home at night, (and this) is kind of a stereotype, but I have Wisconsin, I have all these cheese shops (that) I drive past depending on how I get home Me. They were all packed, even at one in the morning. So I just want to point out that I think in a lot of private sector jobs, they showed up to work in the middle of the (pandemic). It’s time for us to get back to where we want to be,” Grothman said during the April 30 Oversight and Accountability Committee hearing.

I don’t know if you knew this, but the cheese industry has been very important to Sheboygan County since the 1870s.

The same cannot be said for federal agencies. In fact, the Office of Personnel Management does not list cheese or any specific food manufacturer in its job series list. There is 7401 – General Food Preparation and Serving which includes cooking, bartending and even cutting meat, but unfortunately nothing on cheese.

Grothman was trying to make the case that federal employees should return to the office, but his analogy, like that of most lawmakers, fell flat.

Just like Sen. Joni Ernst’s (R-Iowa) attack on federal employees in April.

“Every day is ‘Wear Your Pajamas to Work’ Day when tens of thousands of bureaucrats work from home,” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), posted on X on April 16, which turned out to be be the National Wear Your Pajamas to Work. Working day.

Was Ernst aware of some sort of “unofficial” celebration at the Neal Smith Federal Building in Des Moines, Iowa, which brings together 800 federal employees from more than 40 agencies, all of whom wore their pajamas to work?

By the way, did you know that National Wear Your Pajamas to Work Day was started in 2004, by Pajamagram, as a reward for nights spent working on taxes. If you’re keeping score, National Wear Your Pajamas to Work Day 2025 will take place on April 6.

But I digress, the debate on the return to power continues to boil over. Republicans continue to criticize federal employees and the Biden administration for what they see as waste and abuse.

There is no universal policy on returning to the office

Democrats and the Office of Management and Budget are defending agency leadership in making decisions about how often federal employees should come to the office based on what is best for their agency’s mission.

Brian Elliott, executive adviser for the future of work and workplace culture expert, said both sides lacked understanding and were overreaching each other.

“I think a lot of this comes from the fact that there is no one size fits all solution, because different jobs and different roles have different requirements. They always have and always will,” Elliott said in an interview with Federal News Network. “The private sector has also been grappling with this issue for some time, and I work with companies that have very diverse practices. But they understood that the important moments for a sales team are different than those for an engineering team or a finance team. But you would never apply a uniform set of rules to everyone and expect it to work the same way.

This is exactly why Grothman’s cheese maker analogy or Ernst’s comments about what federal employees wear are the kinds of comments that irritate so many people and prevent real discussion from happening.

First, as Jason Miller, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, told lawmakers four times during the April 30 hearing, more than half of the workforce The federal work cannot telework due to their professional responsibilities. That means more than a million federal employees – those who protect the border, secure airports, inspect food and provide medical care to veterans in hospitals – are commuting and most likely wearing work clothes – although hospital scrubs could be considered pajamas – and working outside the home.

Miller said that of the remaining 40 to 49 percent of employees working in everything from technology to human resources to processing tax returns or disability forms, about 80 percent of them are at office at least half the time, which equates to about two to two. -three times per week.

But like before the pandemic, just because you’re in the office doesn’t necessarily mean work is done.

Evaluating productivity remains difficult

Elliott said it is for this reason and the concept that work is what you do, not where you do it, is why employers in both the public and private sectors need to change the way whose productivity they evaluate. He said this new vision is a struggle no matter what industry you work in.

“We need to stop trying to measure activity, stop trying to measure the number of days a week someone shows up, or the number of keystrokes, and start determining what outcomes you’re trying to achieve. ‘get,’ he said. “In most organizations, when we delve deeper into this topic, we realize that you might be able to define productivity for a subset of tasks, like customer service, which is usually a metric against which you can generally compare yourself. You can measure the quantity of production and the quality of production. But you can do this regardless of where the human being is performing this customer support. It literally doesn’t matter. But other works are much more complex. What’s important is the interdisciplinarity, the cross-functional nature, solving complicated problems that are really difficult to evaluate.

Elliott highlighted the story of a National Science Foundation executive who said the number of grant applications received peaked during the pandemic, but they were just as capable of serving them during this time.

The focus, he said, is on what determines mission outcomes, not “exhausting telework classifications” or other meaningless evidence.

“We are very accustomed to communicating, collaborating, working and even building relationships online. I’ve spoken with senior agency leaders who will talk about how the people above them, as well as in the meeting rooms, aren’t benefiting from the tools their teams use every day. If your only familiarity with the digital tools your teams use is the occasional Teams call or Zoom call, and you’re not in Teams or Slack itself, watching the work unfold, then it doesn’t It’s no surprise that when you come back into an office space and you don’t see a lot of activity, you then worry, are they really working? Elliott said. “The same thing happened in the private sector. What I’ve done with a number of leaders is literally show them how these tools work. We’re interested enough that they feel comfortable, so they can actually see the work that’s being done, when otherwise they might miss it. There is certainly a transition here related to generational differences in the way we communicate.

Elliott said it’s not just about using communication and collaboration tools. This is a transformation across many industries and many offices that has occurred over the past four years.

Doctrine of fairness, not really fair

He said this whole discussion comes back to this central question: How can agencies or companies know if their employees are actually working if they are not physically in an environment where they can watch and monitor them?

“This is the least effective way to measure productivity and results. This is an input-driven mechanism. The equivalent would be if I put typing monitors on people’s laptops, because the way they actually produce something is through typing. So once you’ve measured the number of keystrokes, you can go to Amazon.com and buy a mouse jiggler for $25, stick it to the side of your laptop and it will keep your mouse active for eight hours a day or as many hours as you want. has. And you can actually schedule as many breaks as you want. These systems can easily be gamed. On top of that, it’s much better to instrument outcome-oriented metrics,” Elliott said.

Elliott added that the other side of the argument is often called the “fairness doctrine.” He said what’s fair to office workers should be fair to front-line employees. But Elliott said this so-called doctrine was wrong.

“Front-line workers have to show up to the front of the line, and office workers don’t have to, and some will say that’s unfair. There is, however, a combination of equality and fairness things that happen in this context. We already pay office workers more than front-line workers. This has been true for ages,” he said. “The real question is how do we attract workers for the jobs that are often the hardest to fill these days? These are those call center jobs. It’s the fact that you’re investing in a different type of flexibility for these workers, not just a workplace, which you can’t always offer them, but also flexible hours. Giving people the opportunity to swap shifts, by giving them flexibility in how many shifts they work per week, helps you attract more people to these jobs and retain them. What you’re looking for is: Can I measure the quality of their work to respond to my clients? Not that they show up.

This takes us back to the land of cheese and whining. If Grothman and other lawmakers want to ensure that federal employees are using taxpayer dollars appropriately, serving citizens effectively, and not abusing their privilege to work from home, they should demand to see the data and hold agency leaders accountable for mission-focused meetings. goals. The workplace has changed, the cork of remote work is no longer going back into the bottle, so supporters and detractors should stop arguing about what was or was, and focus on measuring the success of remote work’s mission. the agency serving citizens.

Almost useless fact

By Michele Sandiford

The term “telecommuting” was first coined in 1972 by Jack Nilles. At that time, Nilles was working remotely on a complex NASA communications system.

Source: Allied Telcom

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