Measuring Telework Productivity

Excellent (IMO) article from Federal Computer Week:

Sweat pants and metrics

* By Michael Lisagor
* Feb 06, 2009

Measuring performance in a virtual workplace
I’m wearing my grungy sweat pants and torn Oakland Raiders T-shirt as I write this column in my home office on Bainbridge Island, Wash., in the Puget Sound. My editor in Falls Church, Va., rarely sees me, and I suspect would be somewhat appalled at my work attire. Fortunately, he values results over appearance and office visibility.

The rapid expansion of teleworking in the government workplace means that more civil servants are also spending their time at home. Like me, they sit in front of a monitor and use e-mail and wikis to communicate from a distance. Unlike me, they may not have such a tangible work product to demonstrate their time spent and prove their value to the organization.

So how do their managers see what these remote staff members are doing? How do they identify and reward the hard workers and get the slackers to either move up or move out? At a time when many managers hail from the aging baby-boomer generation but many workers are gadget-savvy Gen Ys and Millennials, how do the two connect in the cyber office?

One of my clients, a senior federal agency information technology manager, worries that she might be overlooking industrious staff members who quietly toil behind the scenes in favor of those who are more able and/or adept at getting face time. Having more than half her staff spread through three different states is challenging her ability to accurately evaluate personnel performance.

For many years, she could use the venerable “management by walking around” approach. That’s possible only when all of the employees work in the same office. Now she’s forced to put more emphasis on measured contribution than on physical observation.

She is establishing a few prioritized measures of success for each organizational unit and employee, so she can then regularly measure and communicate the results. Indeed, many large commercial outfits are using workforce performance management software applications to monitor these individual and organizational objectives. They are even having serious business planning and status meetings via collaborative Web sites and fourth-dimensional worlds such as Second Life.

Veteran government managers need to embrace these innovative technologies or face alienating an ever-increasing number of Web-savvy workers. This means a cultural transition from face-to-face encounters at the water cooler to webcams, blogs and groupware.

What’s more, midlevel and frontline agency managers don’t need to wait for official direction from above to make some of these changes right away. While always considering security and privacy restrictions, they can use the positions and authority they do have to explore ways to integrate some of these solutions. Who knows? It could be a first step toward creating the organization they hope to inherit in the next 10 years.

As more telework employees and their managers are learning, office familiarity is not an acceptable substitute for real performance. Hopefully, our next generation of government leaders will find the patience to help us gray-haired — or in my case, no-haired — managers adapt to new ways.

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Allen Sheaprd

How does one measure progress at work? Teleworking can make things easier or harder. How many folks have come in on a Saturday to get things done when the phone is not ringing.

Culling slackers or at least prodding them is the hard part IMO and Michael I’m glad you brought it up. We are not machines cranking out results. People need recognition, direction and feedback.

Is a person doing less because of a lack of motivation & feed back from the manager or are they a true slacker to the core?

Michael – teleworking is a big part of pandemic and disaster planning. During a pandemic people may be working at home for two or three months straight with kids at home. Bets to test drive this idea now.

As you wrote “office familiarity is not an acceptable substitute for real performance.” People do worry that they will be out of sight-out-of-mind come review and promotion time.


Emi Whittle

Interestingly enough, I am currently living through the scenario you mention above… thanks to hurricane Ike, a damaged office building and lots of mold have kept us all telecommuting for the past 5 months!

Some jobs and some personalities lend themselves to telecommuting more than others…. I am lucky that I have a data oriented job – I either produce data or I do not. My bosses know right away if I am working as I should or not. I like it because nobody cares what I’m wearing, I a m capable of running a load of laundry while processors crunch numbers, and I can get more done when its convenient to other parts of my life. I keep in regular and constant communication with my bosses and email lots of information about what I do. This way there is little room for a boss to wonder if I am working or what I am working on.

Other folks do not like communicating via email very much, and/or prefer in person communication, and/or do not communicate well in writing. This causes uncertainty and a lack of trust for both worker and boss. This mutual “fear” means that workers then fear, as stated above, being overlooked or not valued. This means that bosses then fear employees are not taking their job duties as seriously as they did while in the office, that they are slacking off, and/or spending all their time charging customers while looking for another job!

Bottom line: communication. Employees need to communicate more to their bosses and teammates what they are doing. Bosses need to communicate more to employees about what they are expecting to see and hear. With those things, everybody can then enjoy the benefits of telecommuting – more time with family, lower gas bills, lower food bills (!), etc!

Our company has lost a few employees already and might lose more if we don’t get back into an office sometime soon – but of course, I will have to be pried out of my dining room chair….

Allen Sheaprd

Emi Whittle,

Three good points – personality, management and job types.

Some jobs and personalities lend themselves to telecomutting. By personality I do not mean the ( fill in the black) cubicle mate but those on the Myers Birggs test who are analytical, introverted, etc.

Some jobs lend themselves to telecommuting. Some like help desk do not always do so.

As for management – there has to be lots of communication.

One technical note – technical support. Who provides the PC?


Henry Brown

I currently work for a federal government agency and the division/branch/department that I am a part of has well over 80 percent (in excess of 1000 federal employees) who are full time teleworkers and there are a significant percentage of other employees who telework from 1 to 3 days a pay period….

IMO Teleworking was implemented only has a means of saving money for the organization. We were told that 50 of 70 offices would be closing nationwide and if you were assigned to one of those offices you would telework 100 percent of the time. To keep the howls of protest to a minimum MOST all of the people assigned to offices other than headquarters were given the opportunity to telework whether they were near one of the remaining offices or not. And if your job would permit, it teleworking was, at the very least, encouraged at headquarters. I am not aware of any screening that determined whether you would be a good candidate for EITHER being a full time teleworker or a manager of a group of teleworkers.

Surprise of surprises, every employee survey we have had in the past 4 years has indicated that there is a significant issue of communications within the agency, at least the branch that I am attached to.

As far as PC support the agency provides us with what they determined to be appropriate hardware and some level of support which has gotten better as time progressed. Would offer that the “power user” in the first 2 years is what kept the field functional. Even after 4 years there still is some frustration of everyone involved (help desk & end user) in providing remote support.