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Is This Really the Future of Federal Work?

Updated: Nov 28, 2023

Yesterday was a commute day so that I can fulfill the minimum required two days of in-person work per week. I live in Petersburg, Virginia, which is about 30 miles south of Richmond. So when I go to the office I usually drive to the Richmond Staples Mill Amtrak station at 5:00 a.m. to catch the 6:05 a.m. train to the Washington, DC Union Station (hopefully you have read my post on riding the Amtrak quiet car.). By the time the train pulls into the Washington, DC station, it is somewhere near 8:30 a.m. From Union Station I then catch and ride the underground Metro for a good 35 – 40 minutes up to the Twinsbrook station in Rockville, Maryland. From the Twinbrook Metro station I walk about two blocks to my office building and there the office day begins.

I don’t know if Amtrak routinely changes fares for the holidays, if their new “Simplified Fares” program is the reason, or just plain price gauging, but what has for months been a $22 - $36 round trip fare was $124. Over the last several months I have noticed that there are a lot of us Richmond to DC work commuters. Yesterday we got royally screwed by that fare.

So, yesterday I drove to work. Driving to and from work is easily 325+ miles. For that trip up I-95 North, notorious for multiple tractor trailer jack knifes, cargo spills, car and motorcycle collisions and all other manner of unfortunate disasters, I made it to work where I held an infectious disease and community health team huddle, where all of the members of my team attended the meeting virtually, mostly working from home. Immediately following that meeting I held a 30 minute call, if that long, with a member of the same team, virtually, to discuss an upcoming research and technical assistance project on viral hepatitis, and just by chance a colleague that I absolutely admire from another office was working in the building on Monday so we sat and caught up on the work that each of us was doing, leading on the issues of climate change, environmental justice, and health. I suppose that qualifies as my “water cooler” moment, where brilliant ideas are crystallized and are then able to be developed for implementation. After visiting the cafeteria, where there were absolutely disgusting food choices, I grabbed a bottle of Deer Park spring water and a bag of chips from the Marketplace shop in the office building lobby and headed back to my desk.

For the rest of my work day I spent in solitude responding to emails, sending email inquiries, completing online administrative forms, and setting up meetings for the week after Thanksgiving. My in office hours are truncated to allow me time to travel to and from the office, so soon it was time for me to get back on the road to head home. With daylight savings time in effect, my trek back down I-95 soon became a drive through a setting sun and into the deep and dark roads of Central Virginia. Was that a meaningful work experience worth a 325+ mile drive?

All work is not created equal. The kind of work that I do, the projects that I currently lead obviously do not require my in person presence to be successful, as my team members for the most part work from home and we rarely share face to face time in the office. Additionally, the misinformation campaign that is being served up to the rank and file by leadership, that in office work reduces stress, burnout, and improves productivity creates an exhausting cognitive dissonance for some of us because our lived experience tells us otherwise.

The future of work is not a one size fits all.

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