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

Gov. Glenn Youngkin supports what his administration is calling the first update to the state’s telework policy in more than a decade. The change impacts more than 55,000 employees across 65 state agencies. 

The new rules, effective July 5, say Virginia state employees “will return to the physical workplace.” The guidelines say coming back to the office before then is “highly encouraged, but not required.” 

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

Those who want to continue teleworking will need to seek additional approval at increasingly high levels depending on the number of remote days being requested per week. 

  • Requiring approval from an agency head
    • One day a week is requested as a telework day
    • Temporary telework, no more than two weeks, for temporary circumstances such as family illness, school closing, weather advisories, etc.
  • Requiring approval from a cabinet secretary
    • Two days a week are requested as telework days
  • Requiring approval from the governor’s chief of staff
    • More than two days a week are requested as telework days

State employees who want to continue working remotely can begin applying on Friday, May 6. Submissions are due by May 20 and the review process is expected to be complete by June 3. 

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

“Since day one, my commitment to have a best-in-class 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 didn’t make anyone available for an interview on Friday. 

Roshni Raveendhran, an assistant professor of business administration at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, said the state’s new policy is consistent with a broader economic shift. She said studies have shown productivity didn’t suffer because of remote working and many prefer the flexibility it offers. 

“The broader trend in the workforce is that there is no going back to a pre-pandemic normal. So we have to have a new approach and that’s, in most cases, a hybrid approach,” Raveendhran said. “The state’s policy is certainly reflecting that but I do see some friction.”

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

“It’s a lot less flexible and the autonomy is probably going to feel a little bit infringed upon because they now 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 that flexibility mattered to them.”

The policy change comes as the state government is already struggling to keep up with private businesses when it comes to pay. Raveendhran said limiting flexibility will likely come with downsides for 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 match and exceed people’s expectations because it’s not the other way around at this point,” Raveendhran said.