Telework: More Work is Needed

The Federal Government touts its telework program as being a great benefit to employees. But is it a benefit that people can use? And, if they can’t use it, is it a benefit?

In 2011, Jody Thompson, co-creator of the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), was a speaker at sessions with HR representatives from the Veterans Administration. Session after session, Jody asked people to raise their hand high in the air if they were eligible to telework. The VA employees proudly raised their hands high in the air. Jody then told them to keep their hands in the air and asked them how many people actually telework. The original 100 hands raised in the air dropped to a handful. This was the case session after session. So, if people can’t telework, I ask again – is it a benefit?

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) conducted a Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey in 2011. Each federal employee was asked to participate and share their thoughts on their work environment, including work life balance.

In the survey, (http://www.fedview.opm.gov/2011/Reports/Responses.asp?AGY=ALL) respondents were asked to best describe their current teleworking situation. For that specific question, 247, 588 people responded. Of the 247, 588, 20.5% reported that they “do not telework because I did not receive approval to do so, even though I have the kind of job where I can telework.” Over fifty thousand people cannot telework because they are not given permission even though they could do their job at a location other than the office.

So what is holding them (and maybe you) back? The report doesn’t give that information, so we will speculate based on our experience. Implementing a policy does not mean that people will take advantage of the benefit. What holds them back? The culture. Every organization has different nuances, beliefs, and unwritten rules. You have to change the culture to allow the policy to take hold. If you don’t, you will be part of the fifty thousand people who have a “benefit” they cannot access.

To learn more about Results-Only Work Environment, visit gorowe.com

Christy Runningen can be followed on Twitter @ChristyRunn

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Terrence (Terry) Hill

The 2012 Employee Viewpoint Survey goes out to all Federal employees this week, so we’ll see if the government has made any progress. Unfortunately, it is tougher to actuallly telework regularly than it is to claim to be a “situational” teleworker. It takes a lot of discipline and determination to overcome the cultural and technological barriers to telework. Teleworkers often are considered second-class citizens and their is definitely a bias, often perpetuated by those who only telework when they have doctor’s appointments, inclement weather, or a visit by a repairman.

If we want to be serious about telework, we need to change the culture and we need to reach a “tipping point” where telework is just another way of performing work.

Corey McCarren

Hey Terry, even if someone teleworks just once a week, they still receive this bias in your opinion? Can you think of any steps to change the culture and prove that telework is valuable?

Terrence (Terry) Hill

Yes – Even if you only telework one day a week, there is lots of “sludge” thrown your way and you are viewed as a slacker, regardless of what you are able to do while teleworking. Very few meetings or assignments are telework-friendly and very few supervisors, not to mention executives, even bother to telework once a month. Therefore, there is very little sympathy for teleworkers, who are often tolerated instead of encouraged.

Jody Thompson

You’re right, Terry. The culture of work has to change. And when it changes, nobody needs a label based on where they’re working from. Labels are sludge generators! Corey – we need to move away from tracking when people are working (8am – 5pm!) and where they’re working from (I’m working from home today!) and focus on ONE thing only: the work getting done. If I get a great idea while I’m out jogging, am I a remote worker? If I solve a problem in the shower, am I a teleworker? Dump the labels.