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Is the future of telework now as coronavirus spreads?

Government contractors and professional services firms have trended toward having increasing numbers of staffers work remotely or in shared space well before the coronavirus pandemic began.

How those companies manage their facilities and the numbers of employees onsite stands to change even more so as businesses continue to rethink the nature of work, ICF CEO John Wasson said in an investor webcast Tuesday.

“I would expect that this will accelerate that and we’ll continue to see a higher proportion of consultants and professional services firms moving to telework, that’s certainly been a trend for us,” Wasson said in the webcast hosted by investment bank SunTrust Robinson Humphrey. “Over time that will result in lower facility costs and more shared work space where people are on the road or working from home, they don’t need a dedicated office. There can be a different configuration there.”

Fairfax, Virginia-based ICF is scheduled to move its headquarters to Reston in 2022 with such a different configuration in mind. Wasson said the new site will have more shared work space and assume greater teleworking, while facility costs could go down “by seven figures a year as we move into that new facility.”

“ICF is not alone in terms of professional services and government contracting firms shifting to telework and looking at their facilities and how to optimize those going forward,” Wasson added.

The federal government itself in turn has at least attempted to show more flexibility in terms of allowing much of its civilian employees to work remotely amid the pandemic. There were some early hiccups that contractors have raised their own concerns about as it pertains to that piece of the public sector ecosystem workforce.

Wasson said that too “could result in longer-term changes” in how agencies think about remote work going forward.

In the immediate term, additional funding for the federal government’s response to the pandemic is a near-certainty along two main tracks. The $8 billion public health emergency package was signed earlier this month, with much of that allotted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other parts of the Health and Human Services Department will get that funding, such as the National Institutes of Health.

The widely-reported economic stimulus package that Congress is working on will be anywhere from $2 trillion to $3 trillion and could be sent to the White House this week. Final details are still being hammered out on that as of this story’s publication, but Wasson cited the $900 billion stimulus package in response to the 2008 economic crisis as a past example to look at.

“That was really supporting broadly-defined infrastructure projects for the federal government in areas like public health, education, transportation and telecommunications,” Wasson said. “In the current stimulus package they’re talking about obviously a lot more money, two to three times more.”

“It seems clear to me that public health and potentially infrastructure resiliency will all see a lift there,” Wasson added.

About the Author

Ross Wilkers is a senior staff writer for Washington Technology. He can be reached at rwilkers@washingtontechnology.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rosswilkers. Also find and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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