DC Deputy Mayor gives a 'return to work' timeline, that could impact the region

On Tuesday, D.C.’s Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development announced a "three-phased" timeline the mayor’s Office has set for when local city District employees will start returning to the office.

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While that timeline is for the around 40% of local government employees D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has said are still working remotely, her deputy mayor said on Tuesday, they have asked the federal government to adopt a similar timeline or provide mile-markers for when federal workers should start returning to the office.

The OMB says, "Federal agencies remain in a maximum telework posture, and we will have further guidance for Federal agencies and the broader Federal workforce soon." 

The greater D.C.-area has around 300,000 federal workers, according to DPED Deputy Mayor John Falcicchio, who says around 200,000 of those employees work in the District alone. 

The timeline for local government employees starts this month with D.C.’s workers the time to identify those employees who have not returned to the office yet. In June, Falcicchio said managers will start returning to the office more regularly. Then after July 4th is when more workers are expected to start returning. 

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Falcicchio spoke about the efforts to return the city’s workforce at a Tuesday news conference, where the mayor’s office announced a partnership with the downtown D.C. stakeholders, including the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District, to provide socially distant outdoor tables and chairs along with free Wifi at Farragut Square. The "Outdoor Office Series" begins this week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. as part of an effort to encourage more people to come downtown, whether they’re working at the outdoor space or meeting with someone there. 

Some employees have already started a phased-in return to their offices. 

"It’s great. Still the office is partially empty. But I think we have people coming and going and traffic is picking up. But, I think it’s nice to be back," said Al Park, who says he returned a few weeks ago and is working in the office a few days-a-week.

"It’s very, very different depending on people’s situation at home as well as their personal thoughts on where they are getting their vaccinations. School, I think I also difficult. I think once kids are back in school full time, it’ll probably be easier," added Park. 

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"It’s nice to be working in the city again. It’s nice being in an office where the things you know are there. Your charges, your white board," said Will Attig, who also said it’s a more difficult decision for his wife, who is caring for their child.

He feels employers will need to be more flexible than before and also noted how social anxiety could also be a barrier to returning to the office. 

Both men noted that there are some employees who may just be more productive and comfortable with their home office.  

Rhonda Powell told FOX 5 she mostly only teleworked during downtown protests. "No hesitation about coming to work," said Powell, "because I really have not had any issues with COVID by wearing the mask." Powell said she trusts the mayor’s guidance. 

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser had previously told FOX 5 they had advised private business owners to begin developing their return to work plans. Vice President of Membership & Development at the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, Whitney Harmel, told FOX 5 they are seeing more eagerness and hope in the workforce returning. 

"I would not say that there is a hard and fast rule as to when people reopen. But we are hearing, beginning of June, maybe the beginning of July, after the 4th of July Holiday, to start really re-entering people back into the office," said Harmel. 

Arlington’s Chamber of Commerce President said they are also seeing an eagerness for businesses to have their workforce return but is also hearing concerns about transportation in the region. 

"I know that there are surveys out there about that in terms of you know people’s comfort level with transit moving forward and throughout the pandemic, that those certainly will be, I’m sure vital metrics," said Arlington Chamber of Commerce President Kate Bates. 

A Metro Spokesperson told FOX 5 with the recent budget approval, they’re now able to operate at 80-85% of what WMATA’s pre-pandemic levels. Starting in June, FOX 5 was also told Metro planning to restore more bus rounds and expand late-night bus service – with the board meeting as the demand grows.