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Telework: Planned, Unplanned, Whatever

Our recent June 29th derecho event, featuring lightening, thunder, rain, wind, trees falling, and power lines failing, has provided yet another opportunity for people in the Washington, DC area to experience what the Federal government calls “unplanned telework.” As it did when our area suffered through snowstorms and earthquakes, the government provided employees with the opportunity to work at home and avoid dealing with road closings, downed trees, and non-working stop lights.

On the one hand, this was a great opportunity for agencies to demonstrate their expertise in “continuity of operations” – COOP – the ability to continue to function in the face of unexpected events. It also gave individual employees an opportunity to test their ability to continue to function when events conspire to wreck their daily routine. Perhaps this time, as this unexpected event follows in a line of other such events, more employees have found that they can indeed continue to be effective even when they are not in the office.

On the other hand, it may be that we are getting closer to a time when each employee will be able to think about every day as an opportunity to work where, when, and how he can best do his job. While not everyone is there yet, it’s clear that we are making progress. All it takes on the part of the employee is: a clear understanding of the work objectives he needs to reach; the tools he needs to perform his work and connect with colleagues; and – a big one here – trust and support from his managers. What it takes on the part of managers is: clearly stated measurable objectives for employee performance; appropriate and effective oversight and support strategies; and trust and respect for employees.

It’s a step forward that the Federal government regularly grants employees the right to telework when conditions require it, even without a prior agreement. But we will know that we have made real progress when we get beyond telework agreements and “unscheduled telework” days and move to a world where we work to meet our performance objectives in the way we work best. When that happens, it will all just be “work,” and we will have to search our memories for the word “telework.” With this latest event, the unexpected is starting to seem like “the new normal,” with telework just another technique for getting work done.

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