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Gov Should Resolve to Expand Telework ASAP in New Year

Let’s face it, the Telework Enhancement Act needs to be enhanced.

Beefing up the three year-old law is necessary for telework to flourish at all agencies across government.

In short, remote work should be standard operating procedure by now for feds deemed eligible by their agencies. That’s why Uncle Sam’s #2 New Year’s resolution should be telework expansion gov-wide. My other Top 3 recommended New Year’s resolutions are:

#1 Fostering Diversity
#3 Maximizing Social Media

Benefits of Telework

Remote work contains inherent benefits for the federal workforce, many of which have been well documented time and again. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Major cost savings for government and taxpayers.
  • Continuity planning for emergencies and shutdowns.
  • Protecting the environment by lessening gas guzzling commutes.
  • Improving the work-life balance for feds who are caregivers, parents and others.
  • Accommodating employees with disabilities (as appropriate).
  • Contributing to flexible work schedules and alternative work arrangements.

Perhaps most importantly, a robust telework program empowers feds to work more efficiently, effectively and with increased accountability.

Attracting a New Generation

Government can also leverage telework as a strong incentive to boost employee morale, in addition to attracting a new generation of young people to federal service.

This is increasingly important due to the long-predicted “retirement tsunami” and related “brain drain” of policy expertise and institutional knowledge.

For all these reasons, telework expansion should be an integral aspect of strategic human capital planning at all federal agencies in the year ahead.

To their collective credit, both OPM and GSA have persistently prodded agencies toward telework. Most recently, OPM urged agencies to expand telework during the winter months, as reported by NextGov.

Still, much more needs to be done to turn telework into standard operating procedure for all eligible feds at every agency.

$14 Billion is Savings

Estimates show that telework can save the federal government about $14 billion annually, according to Federal Times. This huge amount is significant to taxpayers who often complain about too much government spending and waste.

Federal News Radio reports that about half of the federal workforce is eligible to telework. Yet this has not led to the next logical step of feds being designated “telework ready” and then actually doing it on a regular or periodic basis, as appropriate for one’s specific position.

Management Resistance

So what’s blocking more telework?

One key and well known factor is continuing management resistance.

Many managers and supervisors need more advanced telework training. Moreover, agency leadership should clearly communicate the important benefits of remote work.

Feds already declared telework ready should be allowed to work remotely ASAP. Of course, they must be held accountable for high productivity and satisfactory work products.

Those employees who fail to telework with successful results should have the practice immediately revoked — as remote work is not for everybody.

However, the end result should be more agencies putting telework policies into widespread practice, rather than leaving employee telework agreements on a shelf to gather dust.

Transitioning to the Virtual Office

Telework is a natural fit with today’s fast evolving digital/mobile world, which includes the contemporary workplace.

In addition to the other benefits cited, remote work will help smooth the transition for Uncle Sam from the traditional brick-and-mortar workplace to the ever increasing virtual office paradigm.

In essence, expanding telework gov-wide simply makes good business sense, not to mention common sense in the 21st century workplace.

If telework adoption continues to stagnate then Uncle Sam should consider mandatory policies applicable to all feds eligible to telework – about half the federal workforce as noted above. Agency leaders also need to hold managers accountable for implementing telework goals.

The start of the New Year is an opportune time for agencies to ramp up remote work. Thus let’s hope all agencies resolve to make telework expansion a top priority in 2014.

National Telework Week is just a couple of months away.


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

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David Dean

Yes I strongly support Telework. Is cost the agency and the employee less money, there is not a need to breath down an employees neck. Back to my mantra, if they do not product, fire them.

Earl Rice

A tale of 2 telework plans. We in the field have been instructed that all positions will be coded as not eligible for telework, end of statement. However with typical “forked tongue”, the vast majority of our Central Office employees (both those in DC and those spread out all over the United States, the later of which is substantial), are coded as authorized 100% telework. The reasoning for the employees in the field not being eligible for telework falls into such categories as security concerns for data loss and privacy violations, cost of providing government laptops for sensitive information, that the employees can’t handle the sophistication of the encryption, and the list goes on. Though I always though it was rather “cheeky” because the Central Office employees all over the country would have the same risks and problems. I know my job can be done just as well from my desk at home as it can from my desk at the office. Maybe even faster because my internet connection at home for is 20 times faster than it is at work (literally, not figuratively). Oh, I might have to go in once in a while for a meeting, but at most that might be once every week or two. For me it is no big thing to go to the office (8 minute drive away….I gave up an hour and a half to 2 hour commute one way in DC for an 8 minute drive working in the field…for quality of life I would never go back to DC). However I can see where this would be very advantageous. My perception is the supervisors can’t handle it. But that is my opinion and I might be wrong.

David B. Grinberg

Thanks for sharing such interesting comments, Earl. I particularly agree with the following points:

  • I know my job can be done just as well from my desk at home as it can from my desk at the office.”

Feds who hold positions which are conducive to telework should not be held back from working remotely. The bottom line should not be where feds do their work, but how productive and accountable they are. Managers and supervisors should focus on two words: results only.

Some employees who are eligible to telework may excel in a remote work environment compared to a traditional workplace. Reluctant managers need to discard their myths, fears and stereotypes about teleworkers and instead focus the end work products and results.

  • My internet connection at home for is 20 times faster than it is at work (literally, not figuratively). Oh, I might have to go in once in a while for a meeting, but at most that might be once every week or two.

It’s possible that some feds may have more advanced technology in their home office then at the traditional workplace. If one is doing their job productively and expeditiously via telework then why mandate going into the regular office, where he/she may be less productive and work at a slower pace? This just seems nonsensical.

Moreover, every teleworker should be proactively interacting with co-workers in the traditional office. I’m not advocating for working remotely every day of the week. Personal interaction with staff is more meaningful and necessary for some jobs more than others. Weekly or bi-weekly in-office days should be part of one’s telework agreement and strictly adhered to by the employee.

Thanks again, Earl, for sharing your story, which is very much appreciated.

Terrence (Terry) Hill

I think that more government closures due to inclement weather will help to force the issue of telework as a method to ensure continuity of operations. There is still resistance to “making” telework-ready employees telework when government offices are closed. We need to come up with a consistent policy regarding this minor, but irritating, issue.

We also need to get better at using mobile technology to conduct the government’s business. This will go a long ways toward gaining support for telework.

Steven Ollek

One positive – our agency (DCMA) recently agreed with the union representing our bargaining employees to make teleworking ‘mandatory’ during inclement weather closures (mandatory here means those with ad hoc or recurring telework agreements in place prior to said weather closure). I think it was a good step in the right direction since my job happens to be primarily in an office environment at our agency’s headquarters. That being said, we do have managers who still believe they have to see someone sitting in a cubicle to know they are truly working – progress is happening, but at a government pace, so to speak.

David B. Grinberg

Terry and Steven: thanks so much for your valuable feedback. You both raise some excellent points. The cartoon below is per Steven’s latter comment:

  • “…we do have managers who still believe they have to see someone sitting in a cubicle to know they are truly working.”

Phuong Le Callaway, PhD

I agreed with you. Telework is the tool to help reduce Federal operating expenses, improve cleaner air, help employees enhance the quality of work and personal life, maintain productivity despite uncontrollable circumstances, enhance recruitment of the right candidates for the right positions, and enhance the retention of high performers. Say yes to telework and help senior leaders and managers see the benefits of telework for those who are tekework-ready. The barrier for telework exists among managers who are uncomfortable with change! Let’s make telework a working schedule and strategy and workforce structure! I am for it!

David B. Grinberg

Thank you Terry and Phuong for your exemplary contributions to this discussion, which are very much appreciated. We telework advocates need to stick together!

As you know Telework Week is coming up fast on March 3-7. Let’s hope managers/supervisors and feds alike take advantage of this annual opportunity to try out telework and excel with it — especially with about half the fed gov reportedly eligible to work remotely.

Kudos to the Mobile Work Exchange for persistently pushing telework — in addition to OPM, GSA, USPTO, USDA and other forward-thinking agencies who continue to lead by example and shine the spotlight on telework’s many successes.

And, of course, thanks again Terry and Phuong for all you do!

Phuong Le Callaway, PhD

Leaders must hold managers responsible for implementing telework! The workforce is changing and in the telework environment, managers need to develop the right measurement to ensure that employees are delivered products and services they are hired to do. Work location is not centralized but will be scattered around the US or around the globe. It is not the “WHAT” but the “HOW” to perform your duties effectively and efficiently without a boss watching over your shoulder on a daily basis. The “HOW” is what the managers need to work on too. How do you, managers, measure your employee performance in a telework environment? Employees will be held accountable for meeting performance goals and managers will be held accountable for knowing what to measure employee performance. Let’s hold managers accountable for implementing telework. Telework implementation and management should be made a critical performance on each manager’s performance appraisal. Let’s make it happens in 2014!!

Phuong Le Callaway, PhD

I am a proponent of mass telework throughout the Federal government. I do believe we need to make this telework a strategic workforce operating plan for 2014. It is time to get on it for effective alignment with the digital workforce environment and to attract the next generations of the digital candidates. Traditional work environment does not fit well with the digital generations who have different perspectives with the baby boomers about life and work. Also, as more and more employees value work and life balance, employees are likely to work for organizations who can provide workplace flexibilities, such as telework and other work arrangement options, to cut commuting time and transportation expenses. Organizations also cut indirect costs and direct costs by implementing telework since space utilization and associated work expenses will become employee expenses. The operating c osts of Federal government in the traditional work setting will become the operating costs of teleworkers. I also see that by implementing full-time telework with occasional travels, the Federal government can recruit the right candidates with the right talents and can retain the high performing Federal employees who have the desire to work out of their homes. The difference between the traditional work environment and the telework environment is work locations. Instead of one big building, employees work in many “buildings”. How employees can deliver goods and services when the boss is not watching everyday and how the boss can measure work outcomes and results should be discussed openly between supervisors and employees. Telework works and should be implemented throughout the Federal government. Managers and teleworkers should work together to determine how they can achieve the end results. I am currently teleworking two days a week on a case-by-case approval basis and my
commute is not by car but by air. My family relocated to Texas in January 2012 and I have traveled home and back to work in Virginia since 2012. I am telework ready and my work is telework-eligible. Many employees may relocate several times in their work life. The Telework Enhancement Act has helped many good and loyal employees of the Federal government to balance work and family life and to reduce unneccessry work and family stress while fulfilling the agency mission. Unless managers are held accountable for implementing telework through performance appraisal, there are managers who will continue to hold on to traditional work environment. It is easy for them and that is the way they feel comfortable with. Change does not come easy to some managers. It takes enforcement to make mass telework happens throughout the government.

Henry Brown

Going to be somewhat of a “contrarian“… Kinda had to chuckle when the first “blizzard” of 2014 caused OPM to implement the stay at home policy Where those who were eligible for teleworking had to telework and those who weren’t eligible simply got the day off WITH pay.

Suspect that those who were on the edge of thinking about joining the telework team MAY be having second thoughts.

I don’t perceive any easy solution to the problem…

David B. Grinberg

Thank you for your constructive comments, Henry — nice to hear from you! Moreover, it’s best to hear from all sides in an open dialogue and ponder different viewpoints.

As you well know, Henry, there’s almost never “any easy solution to the problem” of changing the institutional culture of government. Some may equate such a momentous undertaking to drawing blood from a stone.

Thus, I agree with Phuong’s astute insights about OPM considering mandatory telework for all feds who are deemed “eligible” and “ready” by their agencies.

A mandatory minimum of working remotely for at least one day per pay period seems reasonable to me. This would better acquaint and familiarize remote work for employees and supervisors to a much greater extent then today — and remember, half of all feds are reportedly eligible for telework.

Then, when a crisis or shutdown hits, those feds who are part of the remote workforce can spring into action for successful continuity of gov operations.

As Phuong points out:

  • “Unless managers are held accountable for implementing telework through performance appraisal, there are managers who will continue to hold on to traditional work environment.”

  • “It is easy for them and that is the way they feel comfortable with. Change does not come easy to some managers.”

  • “It takes enforcement to make mass telework happens throughout the government.”

Also, for those non-teleworkers who may get the day off during shutdowns and emergencies, I would simply tell them to enjoy their free paid day away from the office (which is probably a rare occurrence anyway).

Thanks again, Henry and Phuong for your valuable contributions to this ongoing discussion.

Kristina Marzullo

Great post, David! I hadn’t read it yet, so thanks for pointing it out. I believe that the virtual office is going to be a must-have in the near future when new recruits are negotiating on job offers. Many employees are already requiring it. We’re all doing “more with less” these days and teleworking/virtual office is a way for us to achieve that work/life balance we all desire. Thanks for sharing.

Are you pledging to work from home during Telework Week 2014?

David B. Grinberg

Thanks so much for your kind comments, Kristina — and ditto on your excellent post. Sounds like we are both on the same page.

I think the more proponents of telework who speak out about its many benefits, the better it will be for getting telework detractors (especially managers/supervisors) to see the light and get with the program already.

I’m confident that one day in the near future there will be no need for Telework Week because every week will be telework week gov-wide for employees whose jobs make them eligible and ready to work remotely.

Yes, I will be pledging and participating in Telework Week. I strongly encourage all gov employees to do the same.