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COVID-19 telework policy memorandum


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This information helps organizations navigate telework questions related to novel coronavirus (COVID-19). We hope this resource helps you make sound decisions in the workplace. This guidance applies to general government employers. Higher education employers may choose to follow this guidance.

Please note: We will adjust these guidelines as we learn more about the spread and impacts of the virus and adjust business operations.

 “Mobile work, telework, and flexible work hours provide state government the ability to be resilient and responsive during emergencies and natural disasters.”

 – Governor Jay Inslee, June 2016

Governor Inslee signed a proclamation urging social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19. State agencies should shift to telework operations except in limited circumstances.

Telework is no longer just an option to offer, it is a necessary mode of work to help us slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. If an employee can telework, they should be teleworking.

Our resilience as a state depends on how flexible we are in this moment of systemic stress. Effective telework strategies will help keep our employees safe while they continue providing important services to the people of Washington.

In this policy memorandum, you will find:               

Immediate implementation

We must all be vigorous in our efforts to continue serving the residents of our state. Develop a plan today for how you can support your staff while they telework. Do not delay – take steps to enable all staff who are able to telework immediately. Organizations should pay particular attention and prioritize employees who are high and medium risk.

Availability and flexibility

Teleworkers should strive to be available as we would during normal work hours. Acknowledge that this goal may be affected by circumstances such as school closures. Parents and other employees adjusting to telework may not be as responsive as normal. Be human. Allow flexibility. Recognize the real challenges our employees are facing during this difficult time.

Agencies will waive policy requirements for alternate child care arrangements for teleworking employees. Employees may still be required to take leave if child care prevents them from working. Agencies should offer scheduling flexibility so parents and guardians can provide necessary care.

Connection tips for employees:

  • Forward your work desk phone to an agency-issued mobile phone if you have one. Ensure your mobile number is in your signature block or out of office message if you use one. If an employee does not have an agency-issued mobile device, ensure they know how to check messages remotely.
  • Update your calendar or out of office message frequently if you use one.


Agency support staff should transition meetings to teleconferences or remote conference formats. This is one of the many tasks that can be done remotely. Consider whether meetings currently on the calendar are essential or necessary. Cancel or postpone non-essential meetings.

Connection tips:

  • Use a video function, if available, for check-ins with team members and small meetings.
  • For large meetings, try to rely on the call-in features that reduce demand on the network.


Clear and consistent performance management principles should guide managers as they work with mobile employees. The focus should be on the final product, not on the process used to develop it. Leaders and managers must hold staff accountable for performance, not their presence. For more ideas and tools for ensuring accountability, see the Managing Mobile Employees publication from OFM.

Consider that performance may look different right now. Assigned work may need to shift more to training and professional development rather than normal tasks. Professional development and training is still work. For useful training opportunities, see the DES e-learning site, the Learning Management System (LMS) and opportunities through LinkedIn Learning.

Connection tips:

  • Record check-ins and tasks in writing, using email, Slack or another collaboration tool.
  • Make every effort to be clear regarding assignments. Ensure you are answering the basics questions – who, what, why and when.
  • When possible, try to focus on tasks that do not require a network connection to ease strain on the system.

Data security and confidentiality

Many leaders worry that state data is not secure on devices when mobile, but with the right technology this is not true. Mobile devices are just as secure as desktop devices when used properly. All state-issued Windows machines are installed with end-point encryption tools to protect state data. WaTech also provides a Mobile Device Management service that ensures state data is encrypted on smartphones and can be remotely wiped, and uses remote access tools that enable employees to connect to the state network securely from anywhere. For more information about data security and mobility support, contact WaTech.

Using the VPN

Unless you have a need to be continuously connected to the SGN, don’t stay connected. One common misconception is that you need to be connected through VPN to work on Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations or other such items. If your files reside on your shared network drive or somewhere similar that is on “the network,” the best practice would be to:

  • Connect through VPN
  • Access the file you need and save it “locally” to your computer, such as your documents folder
  • Disconnect VPN and work on your document offline

By doing this, you are now working on a “local” copy of the item. Once you are done and wish to save the item back to your shared folder (or other “on network” location) you would:

  • Connect through VPN
  • Save the file to the “on network” location, such as your shared folder
  • Disconnect VPN
  • Remember to delete the “local” copy of your document to avoid creating a separate public record.

Staying connected

This is the first time many of our employees are consistently working from home. There will be experience gaps as we navigate this new terrain. Staying connected with your team is critical. Do they feel safe and supported? Do they have everything they need? Do they know how to do important work without face-to-face interactions?

Connection tips:

  • Be proactive in your communications with team members, partners and stakeholders. Err on the side of over-communicating.
  • Get in the habit of calling or instant messaging people to check in as needed.
  • Consider holding open office hours for chatting with your team.
  • Consider scheduling a team check-in once or twice per week to touch base and connect.

Mobile work training and learning opportunities

Some in our workforce may be unfamiliar with mobile work. Here are resources to help:

Telework exception criteria

The ongoing COVID-19 outbreak demands that we expand telework access and participation in an unprecedented way.  However some employees are not able to telework because of the kind of work they do. Here several examples:

  • Positions that have a direct nexus to public safety such as emergency responders, DSHS and DCYF social service specialists required to do in-person checks on vulnerable populations, and some members of law enforcement
  • Institutional direct care staff
  • Individuals required by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the Coast Guard or other federal agency to be physically present to ensure safety and health
  • Employees responsible for transport of physical inventory necessary to respond to the COVID-19 emergency or to maintain health and safety of clients and patients within state institutions
  • Employees with work specifically tied to physical facilities/maintenance/IT as necessary for basic operations to protect public property from catastrophic damage or failure (consider placing employees on-call where possible)

People in these roles have to be physically present and their work has a direct connection to the health and safety of persons or property. Employees who do not serve in such roles should be permitted to telework wherever possible.

More information

For more information, visit the new OFM webpage: