Monday brought another round of winter weather to the DC metro region. The federal government was closed, but not for teleworkers. Teleworkers were able to continue on, business as usual. The question becomes, if telework is acceptable/necessary on days when the weather if foul, is telework also an advantage on days when the sun is shinning?
Tom Fox is the Vice President for Leadership and Innovation at the Partnership for Public Service. He told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program if employees are properly equipped to telework, the agency could reap major benefits.
“Agencies that have invested in continuity of operations planning (COOP) are really seeing dividends in the midst of all this crazy weather. Folks are equipped and able to work remotely. The question then becomes for leaders and managers about how to extend this same sort of opportunity even when the weather isn’t dire, so that we can decrease the cost of government and increase employee’s productivity,” said Fox.
Right now about 14% of federal employees telework. For the government that means that you are remote at least one day a week.
“It is a very low bar to crawl over. Telework is not nearly as widespread as you might think. In some places like the Patent and Trademark Office, telework is common, but not everywhere else. 73% of PTO’s 11,000 employees telework between one to five days a week,” said Fox.
Make the case for telework
“Employees really need to make the case to their supervisors that they can do their work just as effectively, if not more effectively remotely. You can’t just think telework is a good idea, you have to prove it. In most cases the research has found that employees end up working more, not less when they work remotely. For agencies that means you can save money on overhead, provide better services by extending hours and have continuity of operations when snow storms or other natural disasters that get in the way of getting to work,” said Fox.
Policies and norms matter
- Key Insight: “In the office there is the standard approach to operations. When you have a remote workforce, you need to set up new expectations and rules. You have to figure out if there is a conflict, how is it resolved virtually? If an urgent task from leadership pops up, how do we handle that remotely? You want to go over the work you do, how you operate when you are face to face, and you need to develop new rules for figuring out how to have that same sort of experience virtually,” said Fox.
- “It is wise to experiment with different rules, norms and technology. Try a telework day when there isn’t a storm. Just experiment. Try multiple methods to see what works and what doesn’t work. Then bring your team back together to figure out what makes the most sense,” said Fox.
Training is key
“There are so many telework myths about what works and what doesn’t. Your management team needs to sit you down and say here are the rules and the processes that we have established and tested. Here is the technology that we are going to use to supplement in person communication. These are the existing norms that we intend to abide by. You will return a call in X number of hours, etc. Whatever the norms are you need to make sure they are communicated effectively to everyone, so that you are all singing from the same song sheet,” said Fox.
- Key Insight: “You have to focus on the outcomes. You have to be very clear about what each team and each team member is responsible for completing,” said Fox.
“What matters most is not face time, it is results,” said Fox.
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