Telework Week 2013 is just around the corner. Unfortunately, for federal agencies and taxpayers alike, creating a remote work environment has not arrived fast enough government-wide for all eligible employees.
Therefore, the following questions merit consideration:
1) Can Uncle Sam get a grip on institutionalizing telework for all eligible employees?
2) Would mandatory and uniform numerical goals/standards make a difference for telework compliance at agencies with poor records – not to mention all agencies?
3) Why has it been so problematic, for so long, to make telework business as usual on the grand scale of government?
4) Is telework in trouble, or is it still premature to reach definitive conclusions?
Good Business Sense, Common Sense
This dilemma is perplexing because there is already broad agreement among employment experts and government leaders that telework not only makes business sense but should be maximized.
Good business sense and common sense should be enough to justify mandatory telework implementation government-wide by either Congressional legislation or Executive action. In short, too many agencies have been dragging their feet for too long.
In a prior post, How to Make Telework Actually Work, I recommended several steps to boost the percentage of eligible government employees working remotely on a regular or periodic basis.
Federal agencies have been experimenting with telework for well over a decade now. Nevertheless, successful mass implementation has been fleeting. This shortcoming has occurred despite steady advancements in technology, as well as detailed guidance and prodding by OPM -- all of which should make telework implementation easier and faster.
The fact is, however, that too many feds are still stuck in work environments which are neither telework friendly, nor in alignment with the Telework Enhancement Act, OPM guidance, and other Executive Branch initiatives.
Uncle Sam needs to fully adapt to the new virtual workplace before being left behind. Telework is just the start of the beginning, not the beginning of the end.
Will the federal government display enough deftness to change with the times and embrace telework without reservation? Or will technology-driven changes so integral to the 21st century workplace overwhelm old Uncle Sam?
Management Resistance Continues
Despite a persistent push by OPM there are still no uniform goals on the percentage of feds who should be teleworking government-wide on a recurring basis.
Several studies and expert panels have indicated that management resistance to telework continues to be the main obstacle preventing broader implementation.
The bottom line for federal managers should be achieving high employee productivity with steadfast accountability. It should not matter where the actual work gets done as long as the teleworker produces positive results.
Government can no longer operate effectively, efficiently and expeditiously with a Stone Age mentality by managers.
Ask yourself what makes more business sense from a management perspective: having a high performing teleworker or a poorly performing/slacker co-worker with better in-office attendance?
Telework is especially important to feds who are caregivers, people with disabilities, those with long commutes, and those who work independently and/or autonomously -- all of which help to advance a healthy work-life balance.
Continuity of government operations during emergency situations is yet another important factor why telework should be greatly expanded across government.
Ditching Cubicle Culture
Of course, not every federal job is conducive to telework, although individual employees may think otherwise. However, there are many positions that do present a good fit, even though management continues to reject and deny telework eligibility to many employees.
High performance telework equates with greater productivity, organizational efficiency and effectiveness. Again, it's results that matter, results only!
Federal executives, managers and supervisors ought to comprehend that allowing employees to work remotely can result in greater accountability, increased morale, more mission-driven results, and a much needed makeover to attract a new generation of young people to federal service. This takes on even more significance as Uncle Sam confronts a "retirement tsunami" and related “brain drain” to fill critically needed positions.
What Millennials definitely don't want is to be trapped in a real or perceived bureaucratic cubicle culture with little or no flexibility to get the job done -- which is so 20th century. Uncle Sam needs to get with the program ASAP.
Stronger Measures Needed Now
To reiterate, there is already broad consensus about the many benefits of telework. That is not what's at issue here.
What feds desperately need now are stronger measures to institutionalize telework for all eligible employees, not only the select few who are cherry picked by managers.
In today's fast paced Information Age it's critically important for government to avoid playing catch up to the private sector all the time, which has been a familiar and counterproductive pattern.
This is especially true as new innovations and technologies become more readily available and embedded in everyday worklife. But most government agencies don't even bother to equip teleworkers with the latest cutting-edge IT tools needed to do the job.
For once, it would be nice to be on pace with the private sector instead of always lagging behind.
In an ideal world, government teleworkers should be Skyping and video conferencing on Google+ Hangouts (for example) -- without having to purchase and bring their own personal devices to work. BYOD may be a rational short-term solution, but it’s far from a long-term fix.
Again, the future world of work has already arrived.
Govies Need IT Tools for Success
Every teleworker in government should be equipped by their agency with the latest smartphone and tablet technology. This is a wise investment in human capital resources and future productivity to best serve the American people and save taxpayers money over time.
Continuing to ignore the larger issue of mandatory telework government-wide is an unequivocal step backwards at the very time we need to proactively be moving forward. That is, assuming Uncle Sam wants to compete and excel in today’s digital, mobile and virtual work world.
This still remains a questionable proposition based upon lax telework implementation so far.
Also check out:
Work-Life Balance In A Digital/Mobile World
* All views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only.