Why Aren’t Feds Teleworking… It’s Not Cause They Can’t

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This topic contains 47 replies, has 30 voices, and was last updated by  Terrence Hill 9 years ago.

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  • #165712

    Stephen Peteritas

    According to recent reports telework numbers could be through the roof in the federal government. The Washington Post reports that 32% of all federal workers could be teleworking if they wanted to be, yet only 25% of that number actually take advantage.

    So the question is: Why Aren’t You Teleworking?

    My answer would be that I think I’m actually more productive when I’m in the office but I’d assume I’m in the minority there. Plus, teleworking has some great benefits, like saving money and conserving energy resources (see how much you can save using our Telework Calculator). Beyond productivity and just wanting to be around people the only answer I can come up with is that the proper equipment needed for telework isn’t provided… is that the case where you are?

  • #165806

    Terrence Hill

    I’m actually teleworking regularly and am optimistic that with the appropriate “BYOD” policies, we will have the appropriate technology to work remotely soon. We are almost to the tipping point where weather or traffic will no longer be obstacles to work and the government will no longer be leasing huge office buildings at a huge expense to taxpayers. If you sit in a cubicle/office, you can telework. Everyone who can telework should be making a concerted effort to work remotely at least once a week.

    I’m not buying the argument that you are more productive in the office or that you just want to be around people. Not good enough excuses not to telework. Telework is like exercise – you need to do it regularly to stay in shape (be telework ready). With management resistance and antiquated technology, we don’t need any more excuses to at least give it a try.

  • #165804

    Samuel Lovett

    Here is a response via GovLoop Facebook: “Simply because some managers “don’t believe in it” despite that it’s been successfully implemented in the past and the work is conducive to it. :-/ Insecurities IMHO.”

  • #165802

    Henry Brown

    Wish it was that simple…

    IMO the main causes!

    • First and second line supervisors are NOT on board
    • Resources are not dedicated (includes hardware and software and communication tools)
    • Isolation of the teleworker
    • jealousness of co-workers due to a lack of understanding what teleworking involves!

  • #165800

    Mark Hammer

    As time marches on, I think we should be glad that not quite so many people are teleworking. After all, anything that can be done by telework doesn’t necessarily have to be done HERE, does it?

  • #165798

    John Robert Nixon

    I completely agree with that comment. While policies are in place, there’s still a culture frowning upon those that don’t “show up” and put time in a chair where you can be watched. Sad, but I don’t see it changing any time soon unless upper management becomes heavy handed and demands supervisors to justify why their employees aren’t taking advantage of it.

  • #165796

    Jeff S

    It would appear if I truly want to telework I would need to switch gender considering whom has been allowed to have scheduled telework from my agency

  • #165794

    David B. Grinberg

    Nice post, Stephen. I’m one of the lucky ones who works in a program office of a Fed agency where telework is widely accepted and has proven very effective.

    To answer your question, “Why aren’t Feds teleworking?” One of the major reasons is obvious in my Government experience:

    Micro-management by insecure front-line supervisors and mid-level managers who are more concerned with staff “punching the clock” than with work-life balance and increased staff productivity — not to mention all of the other positive attributes of telework.

    It’s a sad story which I believe is too prevelant throughout Government. Thus, in those micro-management instances, the reason why more employees don’t telework really is because they can’t — their supervisors simply won’t let them. This probably won’t change any time soon unless or until increased telework is tied to the performance ratings of supervisors and managers — and/or Congress enacts a legislative mandate penalizing agencies — via funding — for failure to meet specified telework goals — like percentages of employees who telework.


  • #165792

    Mark Hammer

    One of the things that is hard to do with telework is have impromptu meetings. I don’t know how typical that is of many jobs, but at least some jobs have the properties that the work one does as an individual can be done via telework, but the collective activities that management may require of the work unit preclude, or at least are perceived to preclude, telework.

    Same thing with flexible in-office hours. It may well be feasible for one to arrive at work at 7AM and leave at 3PM and get your own work done without difficulty (same thing for arriving at 10 and leaving at 6), but having minimal overlapping hours with others makes co-ordination of staff difficult.

    Bottom line: At the individual worker level, telework may be completely feasible, but at the level of emergent properties of work units, more difficult. All of which begs the question: “How could one simulate the office presence of everyone in a non-invasive way?”. That is, something that lets one have seamless collaboration with others, or call meetings, as needed. Again, this is true, and worth considering, for some jobs, and either unnecessary or impractical for others.

  • #165790

    Mark – We use video-based technology like Google Hangout, Google Chat vid and other similar tools to approximate the face-to-face of office stand-ups.

  • #165788

    Mark Hammer

    I figured there had to be something like that available. Are there security concerns about it, or does it make such stand-ups weird in any way? I know when I used to teach distance courses via CCTV to multiple sites simultaneously it was weird. You couldn’t see everyone at once, and there was always the issue of person A forgetting to disable their mic before person B started talking.

  • #165786

    Henry Brown

    The way that it was handled during the last 7 years of my career where I worked remote at my home some 1000 miles from the office where 80% percent of the co-workers worked was utilization of Web-Ex, and CISCO, web camera going through the VPN, thereby greatly reducing the security risks. It was a piece of cake IF it was necessary for me to initiate a meeting with all hands. Less than all hands everyone knew how to use the phone and email to set up meetings with others(whether via phone, internet or video). Just as in the “office” enviornment, some people would not be available at some time(s), but if we all were well enough versed in each others tasks that if someone was not available there was another person with whom we could communicate with.

    The fact that I and 2 other co-workers worked in a different time zone, perhaps provided somewhat better coverage for requests for assistance from “our office”, didn’t matter whether we were teleworking or not required some additional effort to schedule meetings but…

  • #165784

    Mark Hammer

    Very interesting.

    So maybe one of the obstacles is I.T. services in one’s agency? I know around where I work it can take a couple years sometimes to get new software, not because they’re cheap or belligerent, but simply because I.T. has to run it through all its paces and determine compatibility with existing desktop/software, security risks, openness to future purchases, etc. Easy to imagine that some workplaces may be readier for such “techno-leaps” than others.

  • #165782

    Amanda Parker

    I honestly want to telework, but a 650 sq. ft. apartment does not provide the focused work space that I would need to be successful at it regularly. One day (hopefully soon) I’ll have a house with multiple rooms, one of which can be a home office. However, there are also tasks that I find I’m more successful doing in the office than at home, so if I did start teleworking regularly, that would be something else to overcome. I think it’s promising though and know I’m fortunate to be in an office where it is encouraged.

  • #165780

    James Merritt

    I’ve teleworked for 10 years. The first reason people choose not to telework is management whats to have people in the office at their desk. Despite what policies are in place. To the point it becomes a career stopper for advancement as well as avaibility of high priority assignements. If you do get an assignment that grows into a high profile it’s reassigned. Even though you wind up working more hours than those that don’t its not reconized. Yes, over the past 10 years I’ve continued to telework. Yet, I know its my choice to continue even though it’s cost me along with reduced job choices.

  • #165778


    Agree. I’m way more productive at work plus all my resources are at work. I don’t have telework resources at home either. It doesn’t hurt that I live only a few miles away.

  • #165776

    Molly Moran

    A few years ago I worked in an office that allowed and encouraged employees to telework one day a week. I often “skipped” my telework day, however, and came into the office anyway, because I found the technology too frustrating. It wasn’t the technology of meetings that was the problem (I found phone conferences to be adequate) but the technology that allowed me to access my email, documents, and intranet sites.

    Today the technology is a bit better, but still nowhere near as easy as simply sitting at one’s desk. In my current position, I am not allowed to telework during core hours (but of course no one minds if I do extra work in evenings or on weekends from home…funny, that).

  • #165774

    Robert Giggey

    This is what I’ve seen/heard. Primarily the first point and a variation of the last.

  • #165772

    Karen L. Jones

    In the two agencies I’ve worked for, the first-line supervisors were very supportive of telework, as were most of the second-line supervisors. It is the executive level that has been the most resistive. The first agency finally recognized the importance of telework after the 2010 “Snowmaggedon” and within a couple of months were asking their managers why more people weren’t teleworking!

    In my current agency, I have been allowed to telework ad-hoc, such as when I was recovering from foot surgery or had an appointment in the middle of the day and teleworked around it. Even though there is an administrative instruction allowing regular telework, they won’t let anyone do it until “the policy is written and approved” which, of course hasn’t been done since the instruction came out over a year ago.

    The only other reason I have seen for not teleworking is small children at home. The spouse stays home with the kids, so it would be noisy, or at least very distracting, to work from home.

  • #165770

    Eric Koch

    I was actually thinking the same thing John. It’s unfortunate, but there is are trust issues with some employees that certainly will not be resolved by having someone work from home. Maybe by having the employees that are doing their job be rewarded by transitioning a few days to work from home would cause the lackluster employees to improve performance?

  • #165768


    Even if I’m multi-tasking doing other things, I’m just more productive in general in the office. It’s almost like being in college where you had to leave your dorm room and go to the library to do work. That’s just the way I am.

  • #165766

    Janina R. Harrison

    I used to telecommute more often but my coworkers told our boss they prefer that I am at the office so they can contact me. This is odd because I miss very few calls when I work from home, am available to them on IM and email. It may be that they aren’t productive working from home and assume that I am not also or maybe my boss is not comfortable with telecommute and only told me that. It is silly because they can monitor my activity. I keep a phone log, save all my IM messages and emails to document my activity. They also double as CYA of course.

    My coffee table at home is bigger than my office space, barely room for me much less two people. Tall people have to sit with their legs pulled up or they bump my chair. Because of this I made my job mobile early on, buying equipment needed to set up in other people’s offices or conference rooms. This is another form of telecommute, working from other offices. If I go to a remote area I just work there for the day.

    I am more productive telecommuting because my workspace is better suited to the type of work I do, which is paper intensive. I digitize most all documents, but auditors want to see original documents, otherwise I would just shred them once they were scanned.

    That aside, I get up in the morning and get dressed. No bunny slippers because that does affect my productivity level. I can start earlier because, no commute! I can listen to music, news, but no movies or anything that requires attention because those can be distracting. The equipment used to be a problem, but now I have a laptop with wireless capability. Used to just have a very long cable to tether to router so I could work outside. I also have dual screen capability now which reduces need for printing materials which was problem when we had high winds. I feel an obligation to keep my nose to the grindstone when I telecommute so that I won’t lose the privilege.

  • #165764

    linda perry

    No, at the PTO we have excellent teleworking equipment and teleworking is highly encouraged. If you can’t telework, want to, and have a technical degree, move here. But, I enjoy the contacts and I just prefer a solid separation between work and home.On the other hand, a few people at home put in inordinate hours of overtime. I do not know if my productivity would drop were I teleworking-have never tried. We are almost entirely rewarded by our extremely measured and analyzed output, most of it on computer and not involving group projects, so where we are and how many hours we put in logged in and typing, as opposed to thinking away from teminal or away from terminal consulting with colleagues is not important. We are self- funded from patent fees, so the equipment and support thereof has to pay for itself, and it is good. Has to be, 6000 plus examiners pound away at it all day, plus lots of support for them, and the other Office functions.

  • #165762

    Mindy Giberstone

    What about the need for reliable electricity? My friends in Bethesda didn’t get power back until Wednesday.

    Its time someone looked at modernizing the grid.

  • #165760

    Eric Erickson

    I telework on a regular basis.

    When I first started, I thought that I would be less productive, but have found I am usually just as — if not more — productive. If for no other reason than I get an extra 45 minutes of sleep each day I work from home!

  • #165758

    Janina R. Harrison

    Wow, that is certainly interesting. More men get to telework here because I think it is viewed that women working from home will not have child care for those days. The only women I know who do work from home don’t have children (which is why I believe that.)

  • #165756

    Karen L. Jones

    The Fed Telework agreements normally state that telework is NOT a substitute for child or family care. If your children are in day care when you are in the office, they still need day care when you telework. I know of at least one do-worker who lost her telework priviledges because she was traveling to her parents’ house to help with their care and teleworking from there. She (obviously) wasn’t answering her home phone and had huge delays responding to emails, etc.

    That being said, I worked from home as a full time consultant while I homeschooled my middle/high school aged children. I was very successful doing so, but it required discipline not only on my part but also my kids to know when they could/couldn’t interrupt me. This would be extremely difficult to do with small children around.

  • #165754

    John Robert Nixon

    I think a lot of this is a generational issue that will be resolved over time. I’d love to schedule all my meeting on a few days, drive in when needed, and then work from home the rest of the week. You’d think with how bad the traffic/transportation issues are in major cities, there’d be a harder push for telecommuting. Then again, we also have to deal with being on the taxpayer’s dime. Until telecommuting is extremely common (if not the norm) for private companies, taxpayers will want our bums in chairs at the office.

  • #165752

    Karla A Langhus

    Unfortunately there are many managers/supervisors that don’t trust their employees that they will be productive while working from home.

  • #165750

    Eric L. Poole

    I find this biggest impediment to teleworking is actually co-workers who don’t want to call a cell phone. When my cube neighbors are out, people come by looking for them. I tell them to call my neighbor on the cell, but I often get a head shake and “I don’t want to bother them.” In my job, there’s often telework caused by travel, so we’re well equipped with blackberry, laptops, and VPN to get into secure networks from anywhere. But you can’t respond if you don’t know someone wants to talk to you. We still take advantage and telework from home on occasion, but the office culture has not embraced this mode of operation.

  • #165748

    Joe Connelly

    I am so tired about hearing all the benefits of telework. I came from an Agency that had some of the first telework programs in government way back in the early 1980s. If you needed someone back then, you called and called and hoped you reached them. When the Agency determined it wasn’t working they dragged them all back into the office, kicking and screaming but productivity improved.

    In the new, enlightened, computer age of telework, the Agency I worked for did a wholesale closing of offices, “coercing” people to telework. We bought them laptops, cellular phones, printers and all the latest electronic equipment and hard-wired phones at their homes. One year after the program started, productivity jumped off a cliff. You couldn’t find people when you needed them and when you e-mailed them at home you were lucky if you got an answer…my favorite was the “out of office reply”. The Agency made no provisions to revoke telework for unproductive employees…and since it closed the offices, the red tape to re-open an office meant a year before you could open one, if you found the funding and the space and a cooperative boss. My favorite was an employee who was put on a PIP, sat at his telework office for 30 days before being released back upon an unsuspecting public.

    In my agency the only benefit of telework was a 4 day work week for employees that were looking for a reason not to work. I admit there were responsible employees that truly accomplished the agency goals and missions but they were a minority and carried the other employees. Poor supervision is to blame but how does a supervisor stand up when the head of the work unit and even the agency, teleworks. I stood up and it is part of what cost me my career.

    In my agency, telework short-changed the public, murdered true productivity and benefited mostly those employees looking for a reason to “retire in place” and that is unfortunate because if telework is implemented properly, supervised efficiently and still achieves the agency mission and goals it can work, but you need the structure to make it work

  • #165746

    Janina R. Harrison

    Some people must be supervised or they are continually distracted. I have an acquaitance who said one time, “I could never supervie anyone. Given the opportunity to do nothing or do something, I will chose to do nothing. If I supervised, we would all be doing nothing.” At least she knew her shortfalls.

  • #165744

    Mark Hammer

    Nicely put.

    Technology is not always the solution to everything…especially human nature.

  • #165742

    Janina R. Harrison

    Great, looks like all my keys aren’t hitting. Looks like I can’t spell.

  • #165740

    Joyce Skinner

    I tried teleworking when I was off work for three weeks to recuperate from foot surgery. I could never get my personal equipment to work so I would say the biggest impediment I have found to teleworking is equipment issues. I have experienced reluctant management also but, once a person shows that they are as or more productive teleworking and can be trusted to be available when people call or email them, management becomes more open to it.

  • #165738

    Terrence Hill

    We have almost reached the tipping point in using web technology, in our case Adobe Connect, for meetiings and training. This allows us to connect in a “face-to-face” manner while saving the time and cost of traveling in the physical world.

    I find it interesting that telework is probably one of the top 10 ideas that have been submitted to the new SAVE Awards website to help save the government money. Without technology, this idea would not be so popular.

  • #165736

    Terrence Hill

    That’s the problem. People shouldn’t wait until they have surgery (or a snow storm) to telework. They should do it regularly every week. You shouldn’t have to have a reason to telework. Just do it and when a hiccup occurs, you will be ready to increase your participation.

    My advice – don’t wait until you have to telework. Telework regularly. Same goes for exercise. Don’t wait until you have type 2 diabetes or heart disease. You get the point.

  • #165734

    Henry Brown

    From Joe Davidson of the Washington Post:

    “For many managers, reluctance to allow telework is rooted in uncertainty about managing individual performance,” said Justin Johnson, OPM’s deputy chief of staff. “Telework requires a new mind-set, and it changes the dynamics of the work and the workplace in ways that not everyone feels competent to manage. All managers need to get more comfortable with managing by results rather than process and time in the office.”

  • #165732

    Christina Morrison

    Thanks for the post Stephen! I’ve been teleworking for 10 years, and I would agree with Terry’s assessment that teleworking is like exercise – once you do it on a regular basis, you get comfortable with working in your home environment. I think the biggest issue is the lack of investment in technology, but the technology solutions outlined in the posts above, from video chatting and VPNs to notebook computers, are all available now to address most all of the teleworking concerns within the federal government.

  • #165730

    At my government base, for HRSC, the director of the HRSC declared that anyone could work at home and choose the hours that he or she would work. I was extremely productive at home working a 5 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. shift. I had problems with one employee who insisted on calling me at home after my shift ended “because that was when she was working.” She was a minority employee and milked that for all she could, being limited only by her minority’s being in the majority there. Finally, I called her at home at 5 a.m. to respond to a request that she had made the previous afternoon after I was off work. She demanded to know why I was calling her at home and I explained that now was when I was working. She responded that I could have waited until she got to work and I said that she had not waited, why should I. She complained to the Director, a minority of her persuasion, who then called me. When I explained that consideration was not a one-way street, he concurred. I had no further problems until we went to a closed computer system and could only contact other linked government computers, there ending my being able to use my PC at home and ending other employees’ using their government PCs to contact friends or play games.

  • #165728

    Shelly Nuessle

    for some of my tasks, I think I am more productive teleworking.

    But in my position, management believes I need to be here, And most of the time I agree, But when I have a folder full of docuemnts to review or a new policy to prepare… I woudl like to be working at my desk with only the cats to annoy me!

  • #165726

    Ryan Schradin

    I think it ultimately comes down to this: are employees that technically qualify for telework or are in telework-eligible positions actually being empowered to telework? Multiple reports and studies have found that managers at agencies either feel that their employees don’t have the tools they need to work from home or that work will be “out of sight and out of mind.”

    Unfortunately, that’s actually contrary to the truth. Most teleworkers are more productive. They can work where and when they want, they tend to work during the time they would usually spend commuting so they put in longer hours, they also tend to be more happy and satisfied in their jobs.

    Polycom addresses this topic frequently on their FEDUC blog (http://www.feduc.us). I’d suggest checking out and sharing some of these posts if this is something you’re passionate about:

    Report shows government telework increasing, but barriers remain

    New Report: telework a worthwhile investment despite tight government budgets

    Federal employees tell Telework Exchange their agencies “fail” at telework preparedness

    Who leads in telework adoption – private or public sector?

  • #165724

    David Dejewski

    I teleworked for years.

    That said, with technology and the huge customer service gap being the way they are, I’d think we could move beyond telework and into field-a-work. In other words, the choice isn’t simply work from home or work from the office. We have a third option to work from the field.

  • #165722

    Henry Brown

    Would offer maybe the fourth option would be to work from whereever made the most sense…

    This is why I had such great hopes for the ROWE program in the government work-place, only to be dashed IMO because of managements fear of loss of control

  • #165720

    My HRO strongly supported working at home and allowed us to choose our hours. Unfortunately too many were goofing off at work and the USN went to a closed system that could only contact other government PCs, thereby deliberately depriving emplouees of their right to chat with friends as often and as long as they pleased and their right to play PC games on their government PC. An unintended result was that it cancelled all work-at-home for the HRSC. I dropped about 10% in productivity but was still tops in my field–I turned down a senior govt position GS-13 because of the unfavorable cost of living and climatic living conditions–plus I was certain that the project would fail: I was right and, as a VACO employee I could have been sent anywhere

  • #165718

    Currently I’ve worked at 4 different federal agencies. I do think that as time goes on, teleworking is becoming more acceptable. For example, at GPO (2007), the culture at that time only really allowed people to telework who were commuting from long distances, were on medical, or temporary type of situations. They provided a laptop and teleworking was reserved for mostly GS13 and above. There was at least 1 office where the supervisor teleworked occasionally, but denied their employees from teleworking. This supervisor also took away the employees AWS day, so this was a unique situation in general. GPO also had a large population of employees not elgible to telework because of the type of work performed.

    At USDA-FSIS (2010) in my office, it was 100% up to the supervisor. Our supervisor appeared to teleworked at least weekly, but would only allow us to telework once a pay period; mainly as a privilege . I remember being told this very often, “teleworking is a privilege, not a right.” However our suprevisor was very supportive of “Maxi flex” schedules and comp time. We had to provide a bullet list of our accomplishments the day we were permitted to teleworked.

    At the USPTO (2011), teleworking was embedded deep into the culture. Anyone and everyone who was eligible to telework was encouraged to do so. Many of their GS 12 patent examiners literally telework full-time. Non patent examiner eligible employees could telework up to 3 days a week. Most only did so once or twice a week. The focus was on space considerations, basic trust, and wanting to be innovative and attract applicants with our flexible-teleworking work schedules. USPTO provided blackberries, laptops, and VPN.

    At NIH (2012), there are at least 2 people in my office who telework full-time. As an agency, senior leadership is ALL about teleworking. It doesn’t matter if line managers are into it, it gets pushed down from the top. We have “Telework Day” where everyone who’s eligible to telework is strongly encouraged to do so. They made a contest out of it where the office who had the most remote people ‘log on’ via VPN won. It was actually pretty fun. They ran special telework articles in the news that day and had other little activities to lead up to the special day. My technical equipment ran into a few snags on Telework Day, but the purpose of the telework day was to trouble shoot that stuff so when you really need to telework, all the bugs were worked out. The next time I teleworked, it ran smoothly. NIH provides blackberry, laptops, and VPN. Because of security reasons, they provide us with the equipment needed to telework, so we’re empowered to do so. We have practically round the clock IT support for teleworkers. Employees feel trusted in general, at least in my office. The work environment is very positive and people are really into our mission here. Leadership encourages a culture where teleworking is a necessity for our ability to achieve our mission despite external circumstances such as bad weather. The ability to continue operations is the priority, but it’s also used to keep high achieving employees when they might otherwise leave due to the relocation of their spouse, the birth of a child, a far commute, and desire for more work-life balance. Continuity of operations is such as strong desire here at NIH that I know of a couple of people who *have* to telework once a pay period even though they don’t prefer it, just for the sake of making sure they’re “telework ready” should we need to be. This isn’t an issue for most since, many want telework at least once a week. I wouldn’t make the assumption that its older folks who are adverse to teleworking. Once of my colleagues is young and simply prefers to be in the office (but she has to telework occasional just so leadership feels she’s telework ready).

    On a personal note, I’ll be taking Maternity leave in February. Instead of taking all 12 weeks of FMLA plus more (I have the leave), I’ll probably only take 6-8 weeks because I’ve been approved to telework up to three days a week. I won’t be taking care of the baby while on telework; my husband will be at home with our baby 100% for at least a year, but breastfeeding for as long as possible is a top priority for me and being able to do so in the comfort of my own home is priceless. This is why people don’t leav eNIH.We want to work harder for NIH because they do so much to make our work-life so much better.

    For successful telework, here’s what I’ve discovered:

    • It must come from the top down
    • Supervisors need to be rewarded for having their employees telework; incentives; recognition
    • Employees must be empowered to telework. This means the agency providing all equiptment, technical support, and cultural support for an atmosphere conducive to teleworking
    • Employees performance plans need to be enforced teleworking or not
  • #165716

    David B. Grinberg

    Great comments and insights, Ebony! Very informative and useful.

  • #165714

    Paul Alberti

    Telework is still not in the business culture of many agencies. To say federal employees “can” telework and actually say we “are” teleworking is a big step. There is still a good bit of management pushback on telework; “if I can’t see them, how do I know they are working?” is a very common response.
    So to realize the full benefits of telework, there needs to be a catalyst such as agencies significantly lose physical realestate, budget cuts result in less funding for rent, significant pandemic/weather situation that forces an extended telework response.
    Leadership development programs will need to include classes on managing remote employees, the communication skills necessary for virtual meetings and collaboration and staff will need to learn how to manage up.

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