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Government Employees Teleworking?

Interesting article below, it asks if govt workers are ready to telework (article raises the question in light of swine flu developments…)

Having just returned yesterday from Guadalajara, Mexico — where I teleworked for GovPartner and saw first hand the tremendous effect a potential epidemic like this would have on our daily activities — the question is timely…

But at the same time, my own city, county, agency clients have alread been teleworking for years so this isn’t anything new. In fact, I often say at our initial meetings with govt agencies that for better or worse they can securely track from any place with an Internet connection the permits that have been obtained by their clients, any requests for services made of their dpts, any classes the community is registering for, facilities requested for rental, new construction developments started or paid for… and govt employees manage their responses to these transactions or requests in real time, over morning coffee, the evening news or during a meeting clear accross town.

So what do you all think about teleworking on a wider scale? Nothing new, given that e-government systems have already been around for years? Or a serious new movement with legs that will stay beyond this health scare?

As I see it, the technology is already in place to allow for this on a mass scale. But how will internal business processes, protocol and habits help to make teleworking a success for government employees, or pose unique challenges?


Gotta tell you, it was weird getting a call on my cell from the Center for Digital Govt and talking to them through my facemask as I sorted passport info at the Guadalajara airport… they sent a very thoughtful email hoping I would get home safely (thanks!).

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Chuck Bowie

GSA has been out front on telework. But that’s at the highest levels of the agency. There’s still resistance from some mid level managers, who want to walk down the hallway and see you busy in your cube Also, more training is required to make employees more effective teleworkers. The apps are there, the technology is there, the infrastructure is there – but can individuals make good use of it ? Also, the telework cultural transformation has not yet occurred e.g. “I have to go in to the office today because I have a meeting”. What about video conferencing ? Telepresence ? There’s been some progress, but much more is needed. We’ll get there eventually !

Gabriela Dow

I have to admit, I see two downsides to telework: it is true that the employer likes to see their team working uninterrupted (knowing how many interruptions are sure to surface when the office is at home) and it also has a downside to the employee — from personal experience, you find yourself more and more often working until 9 pm, 10, 11, midnight and beyond (I remember my boss saying “you’re up early when he got a 5 am email from me and I had to respond, “no, up late!!” as I am in a timezone two hours behind CST…)

So I absolutely agree with you that the infrastructure is in place, and some good case studies, success stories, tips and lessons learned are coming out though usually from sr management that telework for a good percentage of the week.

But you defined it perfectly: the “cultural transformation” will be the make or break of this development…

Andrew Krzmarzick

Hi Gabriela – Thanks for addressing the issue of telework. I’m a full-time remote (read: teleworking) employee with the Graduate School, USDA. I worked with OPM last year to develop a 3-4 hour course entitled, “Telework: A Manager’s Perspective.” OPM had learned through its annual survey that one of the main obstacles to initiating telework agreements was a manager’s concern that they did not feel equipped to supervise remote employees. The course is designed to address their concern right from the start, then help them see the similarities between manging onsite and offsite employees. The course also promotes a performance-based environment where the work objectives are measurable and clear, making it obvious if the employee is performing or not. It builds trust as the manager and employee know exactly what’s expected of one another. Of course, the question then becomes: why is this culture not pervasive whether a person is teleworking or not? In the interim, NIH wanted a customized version of the course and I just completed that a few weeks ago. And stay tuned: the complement to it (Telework: An Employee’s Perspective) is coming soon!

In summary: education is one component in the push for creating a more flexible environment where work is not a place, but a position – a set of job responsibilities that (for most employees) can be performed anywhere.

Anita Arile

Interesting course Andrew. The ELDP I am in is meeting in Pohnpei this coming June and the topic is “leadership”, it would be great if you can collaborate with either Steve (Latimer) or Jason (Aubuchon) about “squeezing” in a compressed version of your course. I think it would greatly benefit the insular/island governments tremendously! Technology is somewhat new to many island governments and teleworking is something that would be interesting to introduce as well. Of course it may be difficult for our island governments out here in the West Pacific to utilize teleworking with CONUS, but it isn’t impossible. =)

Allen Sheaprd

Teleworking fact, not fiction – I hope. First I agree that it depends on managers. My old manager supported teleworking but was cut due to budget cuts. My new manager does not really support teleworking but will let us use it. He prefers us to be availble.
Teleworking is part of the pandemic plan. The one person we got from Katrina was able to telework for weeks while their building was under water.
Teleworking is part of many disaster plans but without testing it – how do you know the people can do it?

Mary Davie

When I began working at GSA 21 years ago, telework was an established practice. Many of us either worked at client (agency) sites or from home when working on an acquisition, reviewing deliverables, etc. We didn’t have cell phones, or blackberries and were just getting email at that point. But we were accountable for certain things and had customers relying on us for specific outcomes. If there were issues with performance, it would be pretty evident fairly quickly.

There are certainly cultural and managerial issues, but it also is a matter of the nature of the work and how the work lends itself to telework (whether situational or full time) that can then be measured somehow. I think part of the reason we may be more accepting in GSA is that we are non-appropriated and our performance measures in some cases are more objective and measurable. In my organization, we support other federal agencies with acquisition needs and so most of the time, the employees are with customers or industry partners or are working through the acquisition process and are mostly offsite. That is our culture and accpeted practice. I still telework myself occasionally (GSA encourages senior leadership to do so as it makes sense), and now have all the tools I need to do so seamlessly. I personally wouldn’t have it any other way and would probably find it difficult to work in a non-teleworking environment.

Gabriela Dow

“work is not a place, but a position” – will definitely be referring back to this.

Andrew, can you share the top tip that helps make teleworking successful, or top pitfall to avoid?

I looked at your link for classes and they look great, will wait for the course to come to San Diego… Thanks!