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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

To help slow the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Inslee last month signed the Stay Home, Stay Healthy proclamation ordering Washingtonians to stay home unless performing essential work or activities. State agencies are required to shift to telework operations except in limited circumstances when individuals are performing essential business functions that require an on-site presence.

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.

Telework and homeschooling

With the announcement of school closures for the rest of the school year, some of our employees must be both state employee and teacher during the day. In addition to the responsibility of keeping children on track with their school work —while being a productive employee — families may face added technology barriers.

Some families may have limited internet bandwidth at home or limited space in which to work on a computer. Some families may only have one computer in the home. This may present a huge challenge as parents try to balance continuing important learning for their kids to keep them on track academically, with the expectation that they are productive and available while teleworking.

Consider that although the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order is currently scheduled to be lifted May 4, 2020, employees with young children will still have them home throughout the remainder of the school year and may not have access to alternate child care. Employees should be encouraged to discuss with their supervisor any challenges they may be having with maintaining their usual schedule and workload due to school closures.

Flexibility in scheduling is one way to soften the impacts of teleworking and homeschooling. Flexibility can include shifting scheduled work hours earlier or later in the day, allowing split shifts or more informal arrangements.

Use of available leave benefits is another option to help struggling employees. Parents who need to commit more time to helping their children with distance learning, or who are otherwise unable to work due to kids being home, can use the FFCRA leave (Employee Rights under FFCRA). See additional information on leave entitlements during the COVID outbreak:

Though this situation is temporary, it is definitely not business as usual. We need to show our employees support during this challenging time.


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. 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. Based on the governor’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy proclamation, employees who do not serve in such roles are required to telework.

For specific examples of essential employees, you can refer to the list of essential businesses on Washington’s Coronavirus Response website. Even if an employee is considered essential, if they can perform their essential functions while teleworking, they should be teleworking.

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Last updated
Wednesday, May 12, 2021
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