Will telework gain traction after record snowfalls?

Readers favor the idea of more telework, but worry whether it can catch on

The back-to-back heavy snows of the past week should put a greater commitment to telework on the government’s front burner, to judge from the comments posted to our coverage. However, as much as federal employees favor the idea, many seem to fear that entrenched opposition will cause any push toward telework to fade as soon as the piles of snow melt.

“Wow, I find it amazing that now after a major incident we can ‘talk’ about it,” wrote Mark Arnold in Maryland. “We've been talking about it for years, with the old farts and dinosaurs fighting against ‘virtual teams’ because they are control freaks. We need to move forward with action not talk, because at least 50 percent of the federal government could have done something during the snow storm.”

“Places like [The Homeland Security Department and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services] say they have telework on the books, but in all reality they don't promote it or allow employees to use it,” wrote Chuck in Rockville, Md. “I find it a battle that the employee will never win because the upper management have control issues.”

Related stories:

Government re-opens while feds talk telework in aftermath of blizzard

Feds brace for another storm

How valid is might upper management’s resistance to telework? Several feds talked about the increased productivity of working from home.

Kathy of the Housing and Urban Development Department wrote in to say: “I have never teleworked before but I am loving it, as my supervisor gave me a temporary OK [to] do it today (2/12/2010). I have remote access to my agency and all of its programs, applications -- thus allowing me to operate just as if I was actually at work. Able to get a bit more done without constant ringing of phones.”

A reader in Columbus, Ohio, also touted telework’s productivity: “I also usually work more hours than given credit for during telework. It is a setting that is more relaxing and if I am doing something, I want to complete it. It is my responsibility to manage my desk. We need to get rid of this antiquated mind set that if the supervisor cannot see the employee they are not working. Manage the work and flow of work not the fact that you can see the employee.”

“If the government really treated us like salaried professionals, most employees would respond as salaried professionals and contribute work from home on snow days,” wrote another reader. “However, my experience in my agency is that if an employee needs to leave early to pick up a sick child from school or if they have a sick child at home, telework is forbidden; the employee is forced to take leave. The government cannot demand that employees act like salaried professionals when it is to the government's advantage and then treat people like low skilled hourly workers if it is to the employees' advantage. It needs to be a two-way street, but it is not in most agencies.”

“The absence of industrial-quality telework is an indictment of the SES [Senior Executive Service] system,” wrote a reader in Scaggsville, Md. “Does anyone think that GS 16s, 17s or 18s would do as poorly with telework as SESers?”

On the other hand, at least one reader questioned the value of the honor system.

“Many continued to work? That's a hoot,” wrote one. “My counterparts at Fort Monmouth [N.J.] largely disappeared. No e-mail, no phone calls. They had no intention of working out of the office, and they didn't. This turned into a 6-day weekend for them with the holiday on Monday.”

The shutdown in the Washington area also had an impact elsewhere. “I am on the West Coast but work closely with folks who work in D.C.,” wrote one reader. “All meetings that were scheduled this week were cancelled -- even simple conference calls between 2-3 people. That was very frustrating for us because we know everyone involved has been issued a blackberry and could have easily participated on a call. We have the technology available to us to use and things should not come to a screeching halt when it snows in D.C.”

Which leads, perhaps, to another question: Do all those employees need to be near the nation’s capital?

“They need to reduce the numbers of federal workers and contractors in the DC area,” wrote a reader. “Many of the worker-bee level shops could easily be moved to other cities with lower housing and living costs, where people wouldn't have long commutes even in good weather. And the taxpayers would not have to pay for the high-cost differential and grade inflation needed to get people to work in D.C.”

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

Reader Comments

Tue, Feb 16, 2010 T. Rex Maryland

I was able to telework before I retired. It was wonderful. In the beginning, I was very productive and happy. Then the home assignments became more difficult, confusing and incomplete. I needed office resources to complete the tasks. The telework agreement did not include such projects, but that's what the supervisor assigned. Even though I am a retiree, all of us aren't dinosaurs. But too many federal fossils need to be dug up and kicked out. It's time for the future.

Tue, Feb 16, 2010 John Washington DC

I work at an agency doing C&A, just about everyone on our team teleworks 1-2 days a week. Works really well for getting paperwork done without distractions. I did some work over the shutdown but though it was a waste of taxpayers money to give me free days off. I was capable of doing almost anything from home. Now I realize many jobs cannot do this (physical or classified reasons) and if my power went out for instance I would not have been able, but we shouldn't just shut down. We should say if you can work, please do, if you can't you won't be penalized.

Tue, Feb 16, 2010 Walker New England

The most difficult hurdle our worker colleagues in government face it sone of respect and accountability. The manages-for the most part-treat their people as serfs and they (managers) don't really have to account to anyone for their own performance. Anyone wishes to get a list of, in my opinion, the best dozen books on the topic do a telecommutning search on Amazon or B&N - make sure the list includes Kugelmass' Telecommunting - A Manager's Guide...you will need this one to "sell" the management upty-dodo-birds in government agencies.

Tue, Feb 16, 2010 Walker New England

I have managed sales teams around the globe for close to thirty years and especially well when the tasks, activities of day-week-month, and results are carefully explained and agreed to by both sides of the equation.

Tue, Feb 16, 2010

To Georgia: I didn't balk at telework - I support it. The problem in NJ is that those people don't normally telework and instead of taking a phone call or two while snowed out of their office, or reading email, they simply disappeared. And management was part of the problem, they were nowhere to be found either! They all had a golden opportunity to prove that they could work outside the office and frittered it away.

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