Stop Managing by Hours

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But up front: Stop managing by hours — whether you telework or not

I was away last week, and one of the stories that popped up was ostensibly about telework at the Patent and Trademark Office. The report from The Washington Post, headlined Federal paralegals were paid for four years to sit idle says:

Dozens of federal employees at an obscure agency that handles appeals of patent applications went years with so little work to do that they collected salaries — and even bonuses — while they surfed the Internet, did laundry, exercised and watched television, an investigation has found.

The employees, paralegals making from $60,000 to $80,000 a year, were idle with full knowledge of their immediate bosses and multiple layers of managers and judges who “sat on their hands” waiting for work to give them, a year-long probe by the Commerce Department inspector general’s office uncovered.

Many people immediately blame telework. Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary, wrote, “Let’s not joke about the incident at the patent office. It’s not funny and only adds to misconceptions about flexible work programs. But if you work at home, don’t ruin it for others who want to do the same.”

Yet Joe Davidson, The Washington Post’s federal columnist, asks the right question: But is telework the culprit? Or is it bad management?

“These issues are symptoms of systematic management dysfunction when it comes to overseeing the output and performance of employees who are working remotely,” said Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.), a sponsor of the Telework Improvement Act that promoted telework for federal employees.

This is a management problem, not a telework problem. I have not seen the Commerce Department’s IG report, but I hope it offers recommendations on how to improve management — whether people are in an office or telework. But merely counting hours at work isn’t a good management technique.

The SEVEN stories that impact your life

  1. Government Executive: Federal Agencies Are Falling Behind on Hiring Women and Disabled Employees- “The percentage of women in the federal workforce is declining, according to the latest data, while the percentage of minority employees has remained stagnant. A new report from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission showed women made up 43.81 percent of the federal workforce in fiscal 2011, down from 43.97 in fiscal 2010. Women made up a slightly larger share of the workforce in fiscal 2011 than in fiscal 2002, when they were just 42.43 percent.”

  2. Federal Times: Army ramping up renewable energy program- “The Army is pushing to meet its ambitious renewable energy goals, forming a permanent office to help identify, award and complete renewable energy projects across the country. Starting Oct. 1 the Energy Initiatives Task Force formed in 2011 will become the Army’s Office of Energy Initiatives, tasked with helping the service reach its goal of 1 gigawatt of renewable energy generation by 2025, enough to power the city of Orlando.”

  3. Nextgov: Nuke Regulator Hacked by Suspected Foreign Powers- “Nuclear Regulatory Commission computers within the past three years were successfully hacked by foreigners twice and also by an unidentifiable individual, according to an internal investigation. One incident involved emails sent to about 215 NRC employees in “a logon-credential harvesting attempt,” according to an inspector general report Nextgov obtained through an open-records request. The phishing emails baited personnel by asking them to verify their user accounts by clicking a link and logging in. The link really took victims to “a cloud-based Google spreadsheet.”

  4. Federal Times Radio: US won’t reveal records on health website security- “After promising not to withhold government information over “speculative or abstract fears,” the Obama administration has concluded it will not publicly disclose federal records that could shed light on the security of the government’s health care website because doing so could “potentially” allow hackers to break in. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services denied a request by The Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act for documents about the kinds of security software and computer systems behind the federally funded The AP requested the records late last year amid concerns that Republicans raised about the security of the website, which had technical glitches that prevented millions of people from signing up for insurance under President Barack Obama’s healthcare law.”

  5. Nextgov: New VA Bill Chops Tuition Costs- “While focused primarily on reform of the Veterans Health Administration, the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014 also provides good news for vets attending state-funded schools under the post-9/11 GI Bill. Vets covered by that bill will qualify for lower in-state tuition, no matter their state of residence and school location, which works out to substantial savings. The University of New Mexico, for example, charges out-of-state students $11,568 vs. tuition for in-state students of $7,274 – a $4,298 difference. Section 702 of the bill is written in confusing language and multiple clauses that say VA will not pay state schools if they charge out-of-state residents more than in-state residents.

  6. Government Executive: The Arctic Is Losing an Alarming Amount of Snow- “There was once a time when the Arctic rocked a full, glorious coat of snow. But the region has lately experienced a bout of icy balding, losing as much as half the depth of snow that usually accumulates on sea ice during the spring. Arctic snow helps protect the underlying ice from melting under the sun and plays important roles in the survival of wildlife of all sizes. Scientists have long had an interest in its fluctuations, with the Soviets being among the first to measure it with meter sticks in the 1950s. More recently, researchers have conducted flyovers and detailed ground surveys to examine the disappearing snow. In the western Arctic, springtime accumulations have gone from 14 inches to 9 inches today, and in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas around Alaska from 13 inches down to a mere 6.

  7. Federal News Radio: Energy CIO Brese to leave government- “Bob Brese, the Energy Department’s chief information officer, is leaving government after almost 30 years for the private sector. In an email sent to staff today, and obtained by Federal News Radio, Brese said his last day will be Sept. 5. Brese didn’t say in his email where he was going next.Don Adcock will be the interim CIO when Brese leaves. Adcockcame to Energy in April 2012 after spending more than two years as the executive director of the Army IT Agency.”


DorobekINSIDER water-cooler fodder… yes, we’re trying to help you make your water-cooler time better too...

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  • FAA officials caught in political winds | TheHill

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David B. Grinberg

Chris, I agree wholeheartedly with your valuable insights about telework and management via “clock watching” or “punching the clock” — both of which are counterproductive by hindering employee productivity, engagement and morale (among other things).

The bottom line here is that 1) telework works well when properly managed, and 2) telework is here to stay, despite the intransigence of some old-school managers at some agencies.

Check out my articles recent blogs on telework featured on LinkedIn and GovLoop.

The DorobekINSIDER Book Club: The Medici Effect • GovLoop

[…] Patent official says fraudulent time is ‘unacceptable’ and will be met with ‘disciplinary action’ [The Washington Post] Patent official says fraudulent time is ‘unacceptable’ and will be met with ‘disciplinary action’ The head of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office told all agency employees on Friday that time and attendance fraud is “unacceptable” and will be met with disciplinary action, an about-face from a morale-boosting voice-mail message she left on their office phones in August, a day after The Washington Post reported on fraudulent practices. [Related: GovLoop's DorobekINSIDER: Stop Managing by Hours] […]