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Bucking Telework at Expense of Good Gov

It should be common knowledge by now that remote work will eventually transform the way government functions on a universal level, whether detractors of telework like it or not.

However, the tedious path to government-wide implementation of remote work continues to be painfully and unacceptably slow at too many agencies.

The question remains why?

GovLoop deserves accolades for its continuing efforts to educate and inform government leaders and employees about the critically important role and benefits of telework. Ditto for groups like the Mobile Work Exchange.

Pitfalls of Entrenched Bureaucracy

Uncle Sam’s continuing trouble with telework implementation government-wide shouldn’t really come as a surprise. That’s because proponents of remote work are fighting a longstanding and entrenched bureaucratic culture.

Historically it has been exceedingly difficult to transform the way government does business, even if there is overwhelming evidence showing why it is both practical and necessary. During the early to mid 1990s, for example, some agencies lacked full access to email their own employees in the field — much less establish a strong presence on the Internet.

Meanwhile, our private sector counterparts were provided with laptops, cell phones and web access, as corporate America wisely embraced new and evolving technologies at the outset.

  • So why must it continue to take government so long to catch on — and catch up — with technological innovation and modernization of the traditional workplace?
  • Why does Uncle Sam still appear to be plagued and paralyzed by a Stone Age mentality when it comes to empowering employees through mainstream information technology, such as telework?

Uncle Sam Left in the Dust Again

For too long the private sector has left government in the dust in adapting to the information age. Apparently, some things never change.

This is largely because the gov-wide bureaucracy has always been change resistant, to put it mildly; the bigger the change, the greater the resistance. This dangerous and self-defeating dynamic must be reversed ASAP.

Unfortunately, too many government senior executives and managers prefer the deeply entrenched status quo, even though it is counterproductive and detrimental to good government.

Too many “powers that be” remain intransigent regarding remote work. Some agencies have been super slow to hop on the telework bandwagon in order to: 1) preserve their micromanagement ability, and 2) maintain an antiquated management structure.

Thus rather than empowering public servants to do their best work, too many managers remain stuck in a punch-the-clock, 9-to-5 mentality — even as the private sector workplace continues to improve and attract needed talent away from government.

But telework opponents within government need to consider the bigger picture: we all lose by rejecting 21st century technologies that allow us to work smarter and more productively, which benefits the American people we strive to professionally serve.

Detrimental to Good Government

It has been proven over and over again that telework saves time, money and helps the environment. Additionally, telework allows employees to work more effectively, efficiently and expeditiously, while simultaneously improving the increasingly important work-life balance.

How many more studies and proven examples do we need?

Nevertheless, far too many gov agencies have continually failed to adopt, adapt to, and fully embrace telework. This anti-telework attitude continues to fester and fly in the face of the law (Telework Enhancement Act of 2010) and Executive Branch directives.

While there are several model telework agencies, such as the USPTO, GSA and USDA, most of the 100+ other federal agencies and subagencies are lagging — which is disheartening and self-defeating to the cause of good government.

Meanwhile, trust in government continues to plummet, as does the morale of loyal and hard-working public servants.

In essence, it should be clear by now that failure to universally implement telework is a “lose-lose” situation for government and the American people. Stagnation and procrastination by some agencies must be turned around before Uncle Sam is again left fluttering behind the times.

Agencies gov-wide at all levels should welcome telework and provide all eligible employees with the necessary tools and technologies to do their jobs remotely. This is absolutely essential as the contemporary workplace continues to be transformed in beneficial ways — thanks in most part to the IT revolution, which marches on with or without government.

Rather than tip-toeing around the issue, Uncle Sam should fully accept and embrace telework programs and policies on a universal level — even if it means mandating remote work to some degree.

This will benefit all agencies, employees, stakeholders and citizens alike.


Question: Are you an opponent or proponent of remote work gov-wide? Please respond below.

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* All views and opinions are those of the author only.

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Phuong Le Callaway, PhD

I am the proponent of teleworking. The Federal government should hold managers accountable for telework performance management! Make telework performance management a critical performance element for all managers. That is the only way that the Federal government can hold managers accountable in compliance with the Telework Enhancement Act.

Mark Sullivan

I concur that government has only begun to scratch the surface of how various remote work arrangements can save on costs and create value. However, I believe the challenge is systemic rather than simply a management failure. All systems are (perhaps by definition) resistant to change. At its best, we call this sustainability. The problem is when sustainability gets in the way of either avoiding catastrophe or achieving our greater aspirations. To avoid those circumstances, it is important to recognize the systemic challenges, and the different factions that need to take ownership and responsibility for achieving change:

Management. Managers certainly do need to take responsibility for their own choices and behaviors. At a minimum, managers need to start taking responsibility for focusing on outcomes instead of outputs. We’ll never get to wide adoption if remote work if managers don’t feel competent supervising employees they don’t see every minute.

Employees. Similarly, employees need get comfortable with their work being evaluated based on outcomes rather than their outputs (often ‘time spent working’ rather the actual result) Too many employees don’t want to be held accountable for anything they don’t have 100% control over. Unfortunately, that’s not how the world works anymore; certainly not a world where they don’t see their supervisor more than once every few weeks.

IT Departments. Technologists often laud how much we can do with technology, but then place such heavy restrictions on what technology can be used that remote work becomes inefficient. Remote file access, social media, videoconferencing, and other technologies are great, but only if we can use them.

Facilities. Many government organizations (and employees) still default to a “one person, one desk” planning model. However, a big share of the cost savings from remote work will come from not providing heating, electricity, etc. to unused space. Hoteling and similar options that reduce the physical footprint of government need to be figured into the equation.

Budget. Anecdotal information suggests that the cost of additional technology to support teleworkers can be more than offset by reduced facility expenditures (through hoteling, etc). However, government organizations rarely budget for these expenditures at the same level. While technology is typically budgeted at the department or division level, facilities are often an enterprise expenditure. As such, there is no incentive for a division or department to make the necessary investments to support change.

Of course, there are many good justifications for the way each of us behave. But that is the point. We are each part of a system that collectively resists change. If remote work is every to gain a strong foothold in government, we will all have to give up something for the greater good.

Terrence (Terry) Hill

I am a proponent and so is the Congress and President. Luckily there are fewer and fewer opponents, many of whom are retiring. I’m a big believer in using incentives like PTO and FDIC provide by reinvesting some of the savings in reimbursing employees for internet service and using their own devices and offices.

Henry Brown

Would offer that if a local police department can embrace flexible working, that given the proper incentives/motivations, any organization can get aboard the train, that in fact is leaving the station.

IMO this blog posting from British Telephone does in fact have some relevance to this discussion

A fast approach to flexible working

By Stuart Hill, VP Global Government, BT Global Services

Greater Manchester Police move 97% of head office staff towards a new way of working in just four months

When the force moved to its new, purpose-designed headquarters in November 2011, Superintendent Chris Ullah and his team took this opportunity to introduce flexible working — allowing them to accommodate 1,100 administrative and support staff in a building with space for 500 desks. Stuart Hill, VP Global Government

And, thanks to the help of BT’s flexible working specialists, Great Manchester Police were able to achieve this in just four months.

As a result, the force anticipates significant savings. Closure and disposal of surplus estate will reduce operating costs by £3.6 million by 2014. By 2014 the force also expects to benefit from a further £1.2m year-on-year saving from a reduction in business rates, energy and maintenance costs.

Flexible working will also help the force achieve its 12 per cent reduction in consumption of gas, and electricity in 2013, and also improve its carbon footprint.

A 10 per cent drop in commuter car journeys by 2013 is also enabling the force to reduce CO2 emissions.

Dick Davies

I’ve been remote working for 30 years. It wasn’t to use the kewl technology (there wasn’t any), nor was it to work in my jammies. Working remote allowed me to see how the work I created was being done, highlighting the erroneous assumptions I had imagined. Kind of humbling to get your nose rubbed in Nothing is impossible for the man who doesn’t have to do it!

David B. Grinberg

Thanks for all the awesome insights Phoung, Mark, Henry, Terry and Dick — much obliged.

I’m curious whether you agree with mandatory minimum standards for telework gov-wide? If not, why? If so, what should the mandatory minimum be for those feds deemed “telework eligible” and “telework ready”???

Also, what do you think the best selling point is for telework? Does that selling point change based on targeted audiences, like federal agencies, Congress, the President, the American people, other stakeholders?

I think the best point to make generally is cost savings, especially in this period of historic budget austerity gov-wide (see infograph below). Other selling points are:

  • Increased Productivity
  • Higher employee morale
  • Greater Accountability
  • Leveraging 21st century IT innovation
  • Environmental benefits
  • Better Work-Life Balance
  • Attracting talent to federal service vs. private sector
  • Fill in blank if I missed anything_______________
  • Cost Savings * see infographic…
Henry Brown


Believe that “mandatory” minimum standards will only increase the participation to the mandatory levels.

What needs to be done is convince managers at all levels that teleworking/remote employees are in their best interest.

Some random thoughts on the suggested selling points

  • All the below selling points are good BUT they need to be measurable and have a direct impact on the supervisors/managers/leaders since they will be responsible for implementation/maintenance of any telework program.
  • Other than employee surveys, which IMO tend to be more a statement of the “political environment“, how does one measure a teams morale and attribute any portion of it to teleworking or not teleworking?
  • Who decides what is the correct Work-Life Balance for each employee?
  • To say that teleworking is going to save x dollars in real estate costs to a typical work team leader has no motivational impact to increase the teleworking percentage of their staff.

One needs to be very careful but a possible solution would be providing an award system for increasing the telework utilization… In the process, organizations must NOT punish or even leave the impression that they are punishing individuals and or teams which increase productivity without increasing teleworking