Federal Manager Asks: How Do I Trust My Teleworking Employees?

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This topic contains 35 replies, has 25 voices, and was last updated by  Peter Sperry 7 years, 9 months ago.

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  • #167953

    Just got this question via email and, in my opinion, this is THE reason why managers don’t let their direct reports telework:

    As a federal manager – how do I trust my employees to work from home 1, 2 3 days a week and still feel like no one is taking advantage of the system?

  • #168023

    Peter Sperry

    The first step to getting managers and executives to accept telework is for them to engage in some themselves. When they have worked remotely at least 1 day a week for three to six months and learned how to measure their own productivity, they will feel more comfortable about thier ability to supervise others doing the same. They will also learn how to improve interaction with teleworkers. One of their major fears may come from the number of times they have heard one of their subordinates say something like: “I need to talk with Joe about that report; but he is teleworking today and tomorrow so it will just have to wait until he gets back.” If the boss finds that staff and colleagues who regularly drop by for clarification or useful interaction start holding off on those inquiries while he/she is out of the office, it may send the wrong signal. If this problem can be overcome, the confidence level will go way up.

    BTW, I am really guilty of this. I almost never bother a colleague working remotely unless there is a time critical deadline involved. Which is precisely the type of interruption in office communication that worries managers the most about teleworking.

  • #168021

    David B. Grinberg

    Good question, Andy. A few thoughts:

    1) Federal managers need to get on board with telework and stop micro-managing. We live and work in a 21st century information technology society where bricks-and-mortar structures are slowly but surely being replaced by virtual offices and digital/mobile communications. There’s no turning back now — this train has left the station and is steaming ahead full speed, whether managers like it or not.

    2) Managers should ultimately be concerned with the results and productivity of teleworkers. Results-only should be the bottom line. Would a manager rather have a mid-level or poor performer in the office five days a week — not to mention the many employees who are simply disengaged at work altogether — or high-performers who work remotely? The answer should be simple.

    3) Since telework is here to stay, and expanding govt-wide, it’s in the personal best interest of managers to adapt to telework because it will enhance their managerial skills going forward. Since telework is mandated by law for feds, would one rather hire or promote a manager/supervisor who has successfully managed large groups of employees via telework, or someone with no telework management experience? Again, this appears to be a no-brainer (at least to me).

    4) Employees working remotely have to be more accountable and productive than their co-workers who don’t telework. If teleworkers are not accessible, difficult to communicate with, and/or produce poor work products, then their telework may be eliminated — and should be.

    5) As we all know, change comes slowly to entrenched bureaucracies and too many managers are change resistant generally — it’s either their way or the highway. Thus, Congress should consider new legislation that specifically ties agency telework to funding, as well as management performance appraisals. Telework will only become institutionalized government-wide when agencies know that it’s tied to critical funding and management knows it’s tied to career advancement and pay.

  • #168019

    Lindsey Tepe

    We’ve had some great responses on GovLoop’s Facebook Page about this topic about building trust for employees who telework:

    “Stop it. You don’t build that trust, you give it. Managers have to give up the notion that they know best how work gets done for any individual or task. Focus on results instead of process. “Building trust” is a weaselly way of saying “how can I make this happen without changing myself?” Don’t enable this, force the intransigent manager to face the challenge with accountability. The fault lies not in our stars”

  • #168017

    Matthew W

    This is very easy – as someone who has been a team leader for folks that telework, you ask your teleworkers to provide a plan on what they hope to accomplish during their telework day – and then you ask for a status report at the end of the day on what they competed. If they are getting their work done, then there shouldn’t really be a trust issue because you have a set work deliverable. I’ve never known why this is difficult.

    Much of this is cultural – many of these Baby Boomers have this incessant need for “community.”

  • #168015

    Denise Petet

    I agree. It seems easy. Give people goals and a timeline. They hit those goals and get their work done then what’s the issue?

    There seems to be this ‘must put in 40 hours’, which I do get in a way, but another way to judge performance and compensation is goal based and goal centered accountability. If someone can telework and get the same amount of work done in 35 hours vs 40 in the office….they’re still getting their job done.

    It really shouldn’t take too long to sort out those working vs those goofing off. A worker goofs off and doesn’t hit his/her goals, they lose the privilege of telework and have to come into the office.

    Some of it may lie at the foot of the mangers. It’s easier to manage when people are visible and accountable in your presence and ‘there’ so you don’t even have to leave your office to know they’re ‘working’ (or at least looking like they’re working). But harder for a manger to set individual goals and trust that person to get htem done, and then have to deal with it if they don’t.

  • #168013

    Chris Cairns

    We’ve definitely covered this topic before. Tell this Federal Manager that he/she needs to have a good performance assessment established for their employees, measuring how well they do based on outcomes, not how busy they look.

  • #168011

    Steve Ressler

    Another piece to the equation – hire people you can trust and reprimand people taking advantage of the situation.

  • #168009

    Joseph Edwards

    Exactly! Well said. Successful firms in the private sector hire people they trust to deliver outcomes, and don’t micromanage them, whether in or out of the office.

    If I can get inordinately more work done from home than at my (entirely too noisy) office, why wouldn’t the best solution for the taxpayer be the former?

  • #168007


    You judge by output, the same way you judge when they are sitting next to you. Which do you value: output or hours?

  • #168005



  • #168003

    David Dejewski
    Again and again, the consensus seems to be that telework requires a shift in focus from hours and bodies to outcomes. I frankly don’t care if my staffs are dancing barefoot on the table at home as long as our work unit is producing the outcomes that we’ve committed to.
    • Managers must become familiar with the skills and capabilities of each member of the work unit. This should be no different in a telework environment than in a non-telework environment.
    • Managers must match team capabilities to mission requirements and lay out what they want to accomplish on a timeline. This does become slightly more important in a telework environment because we aren’t seeing one another on a daily basis, but we are still dependent on one another to complete the team goal.
    • Managers must emphasize communication. This is especially true when dependencies exist between the work two or more people are doing. Web 2.0 technologies make communication must easier.
    • Managers must be specific. This is not always the case, but when certain types of employees are working without direct supervision, the manager must anticipate and respond to the many questions that will come up. Being specific cuts down on questions (and delays), and empowers employees to work more independently.
    • Managers must follow up. Following up with employees should be a regular part of the manager’s routine. Without follow up, small problems can fester, and big problems can go unnoticed. Web 2.0 helps in this case, but in my experience, phone calls or periodic face-to-face meetings work best.

    Simply having a greater number of employees chained to their desks to round on once in a while will not work in a telework situation. Managers have to manage and Outcomes need to be present and accounted for.

  • #168001

    I think giving people “goals and a timeline” as Denise suggests is fine over a reasonable period of time (say, a week or two). Asking teleworkers to do this daily for each day they telework is, to me, micromanaging and would make me very resentful of my supervisor. It would suggest my supervisor did not trust me enough to get my work done appropriately, and I am a firm believer in supervisors trusting employees until the supervisor is given reason to revoke that trust.

  • #167999

    Pattie Buel

    Re “You don’t build that trust, you give it”. As a manager I will give it initially, but the person I give it to has to EARN the right to keep it. So don’t tell me that you can’t get something done because you’re not in the office, don’t have access to something, left the hard copy on your desk, etc. If you don’t have the tools/documents you need at your telework location, then come in that day.

  • #167997

    Sandra Yeaman

    It’s that “I’ll just wait til he’s back in the office” comment that I worry about. I have been an on-premises staff member for three years, but I’m about to transition to working from the West Coast four days a week. I will be taking every opportunity to remind my colleagues that I am still around, even if they can’t see me. I hope to use collaboration platforms – SharePoint Discussion Boards, our in-house Professional Network, MS Communicator – in addition to e-mail and even picking up the phone to call in for meetings to help overcome the notion that I’m not available.

  • #167995

    Steve Ressler


  • #167993

    Sandra Yeaman

    I set up a Telework Diary list on SharePoint to record what I do each day. I am one of many teleworkers in my office, but only one of two staff members who telework exclusively. I hope our managers encourage others who telework to contribute to the Diary, a record of just what does get done when staff members are out of sight.

  • #167991

    Karin Lee

    Documenting daily progress is great if you are willing to do it, but I’d worry about an office instituting it as a tool to prove productivity. After all, are on-site workers expected to check in & document what they did every day? I’d guess not, and yet, it’s probably safe to say projects are still completed and deadlines are still met.

    I also disagree with David’s #4 (though all his other points are great). All workers, on-site and otherwise, need to be accountable, productive, accessible, easy to communicate with, and produce quality work products. Telework is still work — but there’s no reason people who work remotely should be held to higher standards than their on-site colleagues.

  • #167989

    Patrick A Reilly

    While there has been a big rush to telework and it is working all over Government I completely “get” the uneasiness of traditional managers. There did not seem to be a lot of thought of developing “Tele -Managing” competencies or systems before the mandate to establish telework came down. An HR department from one agency I worked for used to have “out of office” messages when their staff was tele-working. The polite message said that the employee was at their alternate worksite and would return their call shortly….What?????

    I’m sorry…..it has to be absolutely seamless to the customer or client when someone is teleworking. I’m not leaving a message…I’m just going to hang the phone up in disgust in another poorly executed program to enhance the workforce flexibility at the expense of the service reputation of the organization.

    I think that telework can/does and will work, but if left to trust alone may falter. I’m not sure of the answer but how about some kind of “Trust but Verify” system. Maybe some Random testing of teleworkers on response time and availability….…this call maybe recorded for quality control purposes….

  • #167987

    Pattie Buel

    If the phone system has the ability to record out of office message, then it probably has the capability to forward the calls to an external number. Many places (public and private) have made the technology investment for laptops, VPN, etc. Yet some of those same places haven’t made the investment in cell phones. I’m not suggesting that everyone needs a smart phone but unless we’re willing to pay for employees to use their personal phones for long distance calls or reimburse them for something like a MagicJack, then every teleworker should have a phone at their disposal that their desk phone could be forwarded to. Or get rid of desk phones all together and give everyone a cell phone as their one and only phone (one guy in our office has this and LOVES it).

    Totally agree on tele-managing. It is different and managers need training in how to do it.

  • #167985

    Henry Brown

    Somewhat famous quote by a rather famous political figure “Trust but verify”

    What I am trying to say, just as no supervisor worth thier salt would let an employee work without being given goals when the work enviornment is strictly in the office, why shouldn’t it be the same when we are talking about the telework/ROWE enviornment…

  • #167983

    A John Gironda III

    End of day EOD reports are almost insulting for professional-level workers, but ever-so-much-moreso when requiring teleworkers to provide such reports when on-site workers aren’t required to submit such reports. If managers focus on the product output, they won’t need EOD reports. Geez. EOD reports. What a way to inch closer to clock-watching mentality vice goal-oriented mentality.

  • #167981

    Terrence Hill

    Technology plays a big part in instilling trust in a work relationship – regardless of the location of the workers. Unified Communication Systems like Microsoft’s Lync offer a solution to track “presence” (availability), location (home or office), status (current projects), and provides both an instant messaging (texting) and live meeting (webcasting) capability. It is integrated with phones, e-mail, and calendaring systems. Employees are available at a touch of button. Systems like this, combined with social performance management systems like Work.Com, provides transparency, accountability, and build trust between employees and managers.

  • #167979

    Sterling Whitehead

    The question shouldn’t be “How do you trust your employees to telework?”. Rather, it should be, “Why should you not trust your employees to telework?”. If you hired and trust your employees in the workplace, you should trust them enough to do the work outside the workplace. It’s a manager issue, not an employee issue.

  • #167977


    “taking advantage of the system” implies the “compliance” with the system is end goal. The reality is the end-goal is providing a service or completing projects. As long as the focus is on ‘what is being accomplished’ does it matter if employees do it in 4 hours a day or 8 hours a day? As a manager, if you find they do it in less time, then the management challenge is to find more work for them to do.

  • #167975

    If you know the “what” and “when,” the “how” and “where” becomes less important! That’s the breakthrough that managers need to experience.

  • #167973

    I’d concur with you on this one, John. I made that point pretty strongly to managers in the training I designed / delivered through OPM on this subject. Regular reporting should suffice. You ought to know on a day to day (and, at minimum, weekly) basis what your people are up to whether they are in the office or not. That’s why having a more measurable, projectized culture is so important. Clear tasks / deliverables, target dates, etc.

  • #167971

    Good awareness facilitated by tech. Thanks for that input, Terry!

  • #167969


  • #167967

    robert bregoff

    At company that I used to contract for, I had a work-at-home manager who networked with her work-group using instant messaging. We could all converse and get answers and resolution much faster than if we were scattered about the office, and the mgr could tell if we were away from our computers.

    I agree that managers need to shift to being more task-oriented and less time concerned.

    I get much more work done at home (or in my local cafe) without the distractions of the office, but my agency is reluctant to allow work from home. I also save commute costs, and on incidentals like lunches and coffee, and laundry and dry cleaning. A pretty good chunk of change if added up.

    One issue here seems to be internet security, but I think that the overstretched IT staff doesn’t want to set up all those VPNs, so they call it a security issue. But I still believe that lack of trust is the bottom line.

  • #167965

    Margaret Sarro

    As a frequent teleworker I have to ask that if anyone wants to make us do a “work plan” or “diary” or other anything else like this that you also make the people IN the office do it. In my opinion there is JUST as much need to track people that are in the office as out of the office to ensure that things are getting done. Tracking just teleworkers is annoying and very unfair.

  • #167963

    Sandra Yeaman

    I am a full-time teleworker, so perhaps my situation is enough different to explain my different feeling on the subject. I use a diary which I complete every day to identify what I have accomplished or in some cases what my activities were even if they didn’t lead to something I would call an accomplishment. My boss has an alert set for this diary so he gets a summary of what I have done each day which often leads to his asking questions on topics that I didn’t think would rise to the level of mentioning them to him if I were in the office.

    I see my teleworker diary as my option to do what my colleagues can do, but I can’t – they can walk into his office to talk with him and vice versa. I can’t. So the diary is my way to keep in touch with him every day. It is a communication tool, not a control tool. I know my supervisors trust me so it never occurred to me that keeping them informed was anything other than communicating with them.

  • #167961

    Margaret Sarro

    As a communications tool I can clearly see the value of this. I just get sensitive when people start talking about how they need to track what we do to make sure we aren’t “fooling around” while the Gossip King in the office gets to walk around all day chatting about people and his hobbies and no one thinks to ask “what is he working on?”. The focus for all employees needs to be “output” not where they are getting it done.

  • #167959

    A John Gironda III

    I share Margaret’s perspective, and I would bet that most self-starting, goal-oriented, highly productive, and honest people would also. I also bet a high % of these people have experience outside the federal gov’t. I do. I also was self employed for 13 years.

    I do a daily work diary irrespective of where I’m working. I also include brief MFRs on happenings, and I use it to develop my input for performance reports. However, I bristle at having to submit a daily report when I’m teleworking, but not when I’m in the office–no one working on site submits a daily report (acc’ding to my boss). Such presents an inherent distrust in the workplace. Footnote: all staff members in my office submit a weekly report, so what does the daily report add?

    A couple words about connectivity:

    –Teleworking does not mean “no communication.” I forward my office phone to my cell phone, so people can always contact me using one phone number.

    –If I have to talk to my boss, I pick up the phone or email, depending on the issue at hand. This takes the place of dropping in and/or leaving a note.

  • #167957

    A John Gironda III

    Good point on the end goal: productivity.

    Perhaps, instead of loading on more work to the productive people, the management challenge is to offer them training or other career broadening activities so they can prepare themselves for a position where they are more fulfilled and can use more of their talents. This positive approach shines well to others outside of the office.

  • #167955

    Mika J. Cross

    Why not join a panel of your peers from across the Federal government to learn how these Fed Managers overcame their original concerns, misperceptions and challenges with regards to productivity, accountability and performance for their Teleworkers? Join this free webinar on Thursday, July 18th at 12 noon, EST, entitled, Busting Telework Myths in the Federal Government: A Management Perspective. You can follow this link to sign up and learn from a panel of managers from USDA, NIH, FDA and the USAF how they learned to trust their Teleworkers and optimize productivity: https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/499731440%20undefined

    Be sure to spread the word about how we are working to bust top Telework myths wide open!

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