“Work From Home” No More: FDA Staff Returns to the Office This Month
(Thursday, February 2, 2023)
Starting this month, FDA’s staff will return to their offices in White Oak, outside Washington DC, to a hybrid work-schedule reversing earlier indications from FDA leaders that work from home may become permanent. While it may seem like a big change in the post-pandemic world, it is not. FDA staff have maintained hybrid work schedules for years prior to the pandemic. Like most federal agencies, prior to the pandemic, most FDA staff were allowed to work from home at least 2 days every week, some working even more than that every week from home. FDA staff were also allowed to attend meetings virtually. So, this is not really a change but a return to normal. While many tasks can be completed remotely, in-person interactions have their place in the workplace. Last November FDA announced that it had conducted a pilot study to evaluate the benefits and challenges of returning to the office and concluded to return to the hybrid work schedule. FDA leaders stated that working from the office would facilitate “effective interactions within large multi-disciplinary teams and direct engagement with external stakeholders.” That coincides with the announcement that in-person meetings with the FDA are coming back as well. This is very different from an informal chat with the FDA leaders just a month ago when they said that “it doesn’t make sense to require everyone to return to an in-person office”. One can speculate on the change of hearts at the FDA leadership. The most plausible reason seems to be a change in the political landscape. Many Republican politicians had expressed their dislike of the work from home policy as inefficient and non-productive. With the Congressional leadership change to the Republican party, it could be seen as that FDA preempted what might have been forced by the Congress anyway. This would create headaches for FDA staff who had migrated far from its campus in Maryland during the pandemic, and make it impossible for those employees living in other parts of the country who were looking to work for FDA remotely without needing to move. The back to workplace is going to be gradual and FDA would still allow individual offices and Divisions to decide on the work schedule of individual staffers on a case-by-case basis but soon enough all FDA staff would be inevitably back to the office, like it or not.
Dr. Mukesh Kumar
Founder & CEO, FDAMap
Linkedin: Mukesh Kumar, PhD, RAC