Federal Eye: Berry: Teleworking Sales Pitch Needs Work

How’s this for good timing: On a day when Washington-area commuters experienced 20-mile backups in Northern Virginia and downtown road closures due to a suspicious package, hundreds of federal managers and employees met at the Ronald Reagan building to talk about teleworking.

Speaking at the Telework Exchange Town Hall Meeting, Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry told telework advocates that they need to work with him to quickly determine the best way to sell the workplace practice to skeptical managers and lawmakers. It’s one of several alternative work schedules that Berry hopes the entire government can continue to adopt in the coming years.

“The 1950s model of chaining people to their desks for eight hours is a 19th century model and I want to get rid of it. But our semantics could kill us, because if Congress and the public think that teleworking is a day off, then we’re dead,” he said.

“A telework day is a work day. You are to be engaged in the workplace,” he reminded the crowd during a morning Q&A session. He asked attendees to send him their ideas on how to sell the program.

Berry noted that federal employees in Pittsburgh that work in buildings near Thursday’s G20 Summit site were given three days of paid leave this week instead of alternate work schedule options.

“Telework is perfect for a situation like the G20 because it changes the conversation entirely. Instead of asking ‘What’s minimum we can do during this time?’ we can aim high and ask, ‘What’s the maximum we can do?’ Can we do 70 percent of a normal day’s work? 80 percent? 90?”

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Andrew Krzmarzick

Hi Ed – I worked with OPM last year to develop a course entitled, “Telework: A Manager’s Perspective.” It was designed to “make the pitch” you describe and to help managers understand that there is very little difference in supervising employees whether they work from home or down the hall. Once NIH found out about the course, we adapted it for them…and developed a complementary “Telework for Employees” course.

Also, as a teleworker myself, I would say the percentages above are on the wrong side of 100%. I often say that I put in time and a half as a teleworker since I am able to focus on my job and do not get pulled into impromptu meetings or conversations that thwart productivity. Most of the other teleworkers I know report the same results.

How many private companies operate effectively with geographically disbursed, virtual teams? Government can be successful with this alternative work arrangement as well.