Guidance for Federal Employees Working from Home Due to COVID-19

The Coronavirus pandemic has forced many Federal employees and supervisors into the unusual situation of having to work entirely from home. Working remotely carries potential pitfalls that could lead to allegations of substandard work performance, or proposed discipline. Below, we present general guidance and highlight concerns that an employee or supervisor working from home should be cognizant of.

Do Your Job:

While working from home can involve distractions, you still must be productive. Keep in mind that you still have a job to do. You must be flexible and recognize that while the working conditions may not be ideal, you will still be held to the same high standards of performance that apply while at the office. It is ultimately on you, the employee, to make adjustments to get your job done.

Ask for Help:

If you are struggling with the adjustment to working from home, ask for specific direction and help. Do not resign yourself to the notion that you cannot be as effective, or that you are relegated to produce substandard work. Remember that your managers are likely experiencing the same conditions as you, and want to facilitate your success.

Be Responsive:

Managers and coworkers may need you during normal duty hours. Frequently check emails, text messages, and phone messages to respond promptly. Failure to respond in a timely manner may impact others’ ability to work, and can ultimately lead to discipline.

Be Productive and Avoid Distraction:

Your house may be full of distractions that can hinder your productivity. Be especially diligent to avoid those distractions. To the extent possible, treat your work from home as though you were still going to the office during your normal hours of duty. You do not want to explain to your boss that you were watching tv, napping, or playing with your children when you were supposed to be working. If you are responsible for caring for or educating your children at home, make sure to communicate that with your superiors and take steps to prevent those obligations from impacting your work.

Time and Attendance:

Honesty and integrity are critical in your time and attendance submissions. Do not let the fact that your managers may not be able to monitor directly your physical presence lead you to become careless in recording your time. You should consider being even more diligent in accounting for, and keeping records of, your daily whereabouts and work hours to avoid having to explain yourself later.

Use Technology Wisely:

Recognize that with modern technology, you are better equipped than ever before to work remotely. Networking platforms such as Zoom, Skype, Facetime, and instant messaging programs can all serve as very effective tools when interacting with clients, coworkers, and superiors. Be mindful, though, to make sure your superiors approve of each platform before enabling or utilizing the application. Also, take all necessary precautions to ensure you protect sensitive and confidential information while using these applications.

Choose Your Words Carefully:

You may be relying on email and text more than ever. It is well documented that things like tone and meaning can get lost in the translation when communicating through email and text. Sarcasm, frustration, and careless use of words are all common pitfalls. Remain professional and choose your words carefully in all your written communications to avoid problems later.

Loose Lips Sink Ships:

Make sure your home office computer and phones are all capable of maintaining private, sensitive information in a secure manner. Working at home is no excuse for lax security, so be careful. If you have a government-issued laptop or phone at home, make sure to preserve security protocols and prevent others from accessing official accounts or systems.

Avoid the Temptations:

Sitting at home can lead to boredom, and without the eyes of coworkers or supervisors looking at your computer screen, you may be tempted to view things on your computer that can lead to discipline. Your work computer is still government property, and viewing any adult websites or other prohibited pages can still lead to trouble. Again, consider acting like you are at the office on a regular day.

Be Careful with Social Media:

You may be tempted to check in on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any number of social media platforms. The government can, and has, disciplined employees for inappropriate actions and comments online, even when posted on your own time. If the post could impact your job or the agency, the government may be able to take action to correct your behavior, and your time on social media can be traceable. If you use social media while on duty, be aware of what you say and how long you get distracted for, or the agency may take adverse action against you.

Know Where the Buck Stops:

As a supervisor working from home, you need to be mindful about those whom you supervise who are also working from home. Make sure you prioritize guidance of your workers, facilitate their remote work, and monitor their productivity. Make sure any agency sites or platforms that they need to use for work are up and running properly. Supervisors are ultimately held responsible for their workers and even while working from home, supervisors are held to the highest standards of conduct and leadership.

Communication is Key:

As a supervisor, make sure you communicate regularly with your subordinates to answer questions and provide guidance. They may need help adjusting to working from home, and specific direction to ensure they maintain their productivity. Make sure you communicate the expectation that your subordinates remain productive. Make sure they are aware of both the pitfalls and helpful habits listed above. Without daily face to face interaction, you must be diligent when communicating all expectations, assignments, concerns, or questions. Communicate early and often. Simply put, communication is key.

These are unprecedented times. Our working world has changed dramatically. Things may or may not revert back to normal in the future. In the meantime, wherever you work, protect yourself and ensure that you avoid the pitfalls that can get you in trouble.

If you have any questions of concerns about any work matters, do not hesitate to contact us.