John Klossner

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How the federal government is missing the bus with its telework strategy

Do not work

In reading the most recent foray by the federal government into teleworking policy, it occurs to me that this is becoming an annual event. For the past several years, the federal government has been trying to figure out some way to standardize teleworking for agencies and their employees. It's starting to feel like a New Year's resolution, with agencies on the treadmill, their list posted in front of them: "Lose a trillion budget dollars, get the entire country to eat carrots, create a coherent teleworking policy..."

In reading about this year's resolution one item in particular caught my attention -- "Currently, 102,900 of the 1.9 million federal employees regularly work remotely. Of the total workforce, 62 percent are eligible to telework. To encourage the practice, the Obama administration has set a goal of having 150,000 government employees teleworking on a regular basis by 2011."

Using my rusty math skills to roughly round these figures out, let me get this straight: 62 percent of the fed workforce is eligible to telework, and the administration's goal is to have 7 percent? Not to mention that from that 62 percent potential, only 5 percent is currently teleworking. "Encourage the practice?" Isn't that like needing to lose 10 pounds and encouraging people to give up cinnamon sprinkles on their mocca latte with whipped cream? If the people in charge of the space program had thought this way, they would have encouraged getting a man on the moon by having aspirants go to the top of the Sears Building.

This tiptoeing around telework is slowly taking the shape of following and not leading. In this story about the potential savings from telework, it’s noted that in a recent survey of government employees, “22 percent said they were teleworking without formal agreements, doing at least some of their jobs from home or elsewhere away from the office." ("Without formal agreements?" Is teleworking the new "don't ask, don't tell?"). Since these respondents said they were doing "at least some of their jobs" away from a central office -- and I'd be willing to guess that the majority of teleworking fed employees do so part time – it’s probably a safe bet the number of federal teleworkers already exceeds the stated goal for 2011.

I tried looking for some statistics about the amount of teleworkers in the world at large. While reports on teleworking in the private sector give a wide spectrum of figures -- often being used to support the argument of the particular author -- the one constant is that the amount of people working outside of a central office has been rising and will continue to rise. The federal government's lagging behind this change in work habits can only harm their efforts on several fronts.

Among them is recruitment. How do federal agencies, with their aspirations of having 7 percent of their workforce teleworking, hope to attract talent from a generation that has been working anywhere but a central office for their entire lives? Will the feds just dance around telework policy until the generation that has spent their careers working from the office retires? I would hope we could be more proactive on this issue, rather than waiting for the cubicles to slowly empty.

And I'll be the first to admit that teleworking is not for everyone. Besides the security and communication concerns, what can start out as an attempt to better balance one's work and personal life can sometimes lead to an uncomfortable integration of the two without clear borders between your personal and professional lives. It takes considerable discipline to telework, and I find numerous anecdotes of people glad to return to the protected environs of the office.

Unfortunately, the feds' approach to teleworking is echoing their timeliness on other technology issues -- "we'll get right to work on teleworking standards as soon as we finish those fax machine regs" -- leaving the workforce to figure out a way to make their federal employee lives reflect the world they live in outside the office, with confusing results. This is reinforced by the numerous anecdotes I find commenting on management-employee relations, with managers saying that they don't trust their employees to work outside the office and employees saying they don’t trust their managers to administer telework policy fairly, awarding the privilege based on favoritism or withholding it as punishment

With such animosity you'd think that the two sides would be happy to work farther apart from each other.

Oh, well, there's always next year.


Posted on Jan 26, 2011 at 7:26 PM

Reader Comments

Tue, Feb 8, 2011 Ft Meade

I work for OPM who allows some telework. We were told a year ago that the GS14 over our section didn't really like it so he never wanted to work on standards for us to be allowed to telework. Now that it is part of his performance rating, he is half heartedly having this worked on. We recently were told in a mtg that it isn't that he dislikes telework but that we have to have a study/requirements and sign an agreement. And maybe sometime in March of this year (again just in time to have it implemented for 6 months prior to the close of the rating period). Convienent I'll say. We are a small group and only 4 or 5 would be able to telework. So what is there to come up with. They have already drafted the agreement 3 wks ago (based on another groups agreement). We are all experienced in our jobs and meet the minimum requirements. It is quite simple to manage when you are only talking a handful of personnel. Give me a break. Quit allowing these GS15's with their own personnal feelings/agenda to keep dragging their feet. We all can be replaced including them with people that will do the job and meet the mission goals directed by our President and Director of OPM.

Mon, Jan 31, 2011 Guillermo Mid-America

My wife works for the Human Resources segment of a DHS agency. While she has to champion the causes of Teleworking, AWS and other HR programs, she is not allowed to participate in any of them; that is total hypocracy from her upper management!

Mon, Jan 31, 2011 NSWC Crane

After several years of pushing from the Union we finally have a policy and are starting to implement telework across the workforce. All managers were required to by our Command to attend telework training. Employees who were interested in telework were also required to attend training. All telework agreements are to be formal and reviewed annually. Command and our Technical Director are on-board and pushing to make this happen. In order for telework to succeed it requires support from the top and we finally have that here. There are good programs and guidelines out there, people just have to take the time to look for them and design a program that will work for their activity.

Sun, Jan 30, 2011

my agency has consistently made teleworking more difficult until I no longer participate. They have added more and more obstacles in the guise of "personally identifiable information" security concerns. The commissioner of SSA continually thumbs his nose at the president. As long as the president isn't serious and there are no consequences, agencies will continue to ignore him. Telework is only one area where the president is ignored.

Fri, Jan 28, 2011 Gman

I've worked in the government before, 3 months, all I could take of the mindset my management was in. Telework is here to stay! With the Federal Govt. they need to educate the managers, Senior Mgt needs to push down the dictate the need for teleworking to middle management. Unfortunately there's far too many Federal Managers that still believe in "face time" with the employee.

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