“What is it going to take for government to slither out of the primordial goo and realize that their workplaces and work practices are teetering on the edge of extinction?”
Kate Lister, the President of Global Workplace Analytics, reports to the Federal Times earlier this month the results of a survey conducted with over 100 Federal telework leaders. Here is a link to the article:
Telework, mobile work, etc. has been a passion of mine ever since Kate published a 2011 report stating that adopting a 2 day per week telework policy for all eligible State of CA employees (she was being very conservative on the eligibility criteria) could result in hundreds of millions of dollars in savings. I remember thinking at the time, “This is a no-brainer. I have a computer and internet access at home. Why do I need to drive across town just to use the same tool?” After all, the State of California was in a severe budget crisis and every dollar could have been put toward something more productive (human services, Medicaid, education, road repair, etc).
Boy, was I in for a shock.
I wrote a report for my department using Kate’s assumptions, showing that we could reduce our budget savings (in CA that is a euphemism for cuts) in half if we reduced our real estate footprint significantly and adopted a “21st Century Workforce Model.” Not only was it shot down, I was reminded of all of the horror stories of employees that “abused” telework in the past.
Then, I took my campaign to the road. I started spreading the news to some of my contacts in the department and got a mediocre response. I even shared my research with the Directorate of my department, only to receive the common objections (and even a few personal stabs by my colleagues). After the meeting, my manager at the time snapped at me and questions my ethics, stating that my desire to increase adoption of telework was just an excuse for me to stay at home and play in my garden all day. Ouch.
Finally, I switched departments to a place that was not only pro 21st century, but was looking for ways to increase their adoption of telework department wide so they could reduce their budget cuts. I remember thinking at the time, “Yes! Finally someone is starting to understand…” Of course, another roadblock hit. This time the rumor was that someone in the Governor’s office shot it down.
What the heck is going on?
We continue to live in a world where people believe in the presenteeism facade. You may have heard something like, “If I see the person working, then they must be working.” Instead of measuring the work product, deliverables, and outcomes, we focus on the amount of effort an individual exerts. Inside an organization, these people are regarded as heroes since they are often available and ready to save the day when the next crisis occurs (even though their management style may be creating a cycle of crises in the first place). From the public standpoint, we only question the contribution of the public worker when a news camera catches them at a bar when they are supposed to be “reporting to the office.”
In my personal opinion, I think we have to change the definition of what we consider “accountability” for work. In today’s world, we measure accountability by the amount of effort that an employee exerts in a time period. Middle managers, the public, and sometimes even Governors, are obsessed with the idea that employees need to “put in their time.” However, there is no guarantee that the effort that an employee exerts will lead to achieving a department’s mission. Can we, as public employees, change our “accountability” metric toward contribution to our department’s goals and outcomes? To me, the answer is not only a resounding “yes,” but also that it is our job as 21st century bureaucrats to make sure that we do.