Top 5 Lessons Learned for Telework in 2012

Throughout the month of December, GovLoop has been reviewing the year in government technology – everything from BYOD to social media, I’ve been working to highlight some case studies, best practices and try and condense the year down into one post, while looking forward to the year 2013. Follow along here by viewing GovLoop’s Year in Review Guide, our related blog series, and podcasts.

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With the boom in mobile technologies, and the workforce generally demanding more flexible work styles, telework has become one possible way to allow flexible work styles. Although telework comes with related challenges, in 2012 telework was an important trend for government agencies to cut costs, improve productivity and accommodate flexible work. This year GovLoop had dozens of posts related to telework, mobile workforce and best practices for telework adoption. In this post, we’ll be looking at how telework has shaped government in 2012.

Telework provides many benefits to employees. Long commutes are a time drain for employees, and if agencies are compensating for commuting costs, the agency can find some savings. Telework also keys into the desire for employees to work where and how they desire. In many respects, telework is just one piece of the puzzle to create a modern day workplace.

Employees are no longer confined to just their physical desk location. Further, the way that we define the workplace has drastically changed. Our workplace is now our home office, our cells phone, our tablet, and any device we use to access organizational information. In order for agencies to provide a modern work environment, many of the mobile trends by employees must be adopted. This includes telework, bring your own device (or as we will see next year, bring your own everything), and virtualization and remote access.

A few weeks ago my colleague Stephen Peteritas posted a great discussion questioning why more federal employees are not teleworking. Stephen writes:

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?

The discussion answers are fascinating – I’d recommend you join that discussion, would love to hear why teleworking isn’t happening more broadly. Terry Hill commented:

“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.”

Many responses also included “lack of management support,” “technology,” “not as productive.” So, that leads me into 5 top best practices for teleworkers in 2012.

Top 5 Teleworking Tips for 2012

1 – Build Trust

Building trust is essential to telework. But the burden cannot be placed solely on the teleworker. It requires effort by everyone on staff to take some extra effort to keep the teleworker engaged, up to speed on projects and always err on the side of over communicating.

Telework: Trust But Verify

2 – Accept the trend that employees are no longer locked to a physical location

I’ve said this a lot in my year end posts – but it’s true that we are not confined to our desks. We work in a mobile environment, access information in new ways, and many of us telework in different degrees. So for management in 2013, telework will have to be accepted as a trend.

It’s also important that supporting telework is becoming increasingly important for continuity of operations. We saw this a few times this year with Derecho and Hurricane Sandy, as employees were required to work remotely to keep core functions of government running.

Can Telework Be Measured?
Is Hurrican Sandy the Catalyst for Telework?

3 – Make the business case for telework

The IRS this year was one example of moving to a telework based model, in an attempt to cut costs. There are a lot of other ways to make the business case, the GovLoop/HP telework calculator shows some of the returns from telework.

There are a lot of benefits for telework, but it is a transition and a new way of organizational management for many agencies, so agencies need to invest the time to think about telework and the impact on the mission, and what the underlying business value is for telework.

IRS Closes Office, Approves Telework
GovLoop & HP Telework Calculator

4 – Use video whenever possible to connect

Phone fatigue is a real problem with telework. I experienced this a few times this year when I was working remote in Syracuse and calling into meetings. Seeing a face is always better than chatting on the phone for a few hours a day. The goal for a teleworker should be to replicate the physical experience of being in the office as much as possible. We are getting close now with technology to make this feasible.

5 – Support teleworking employees with right equipment

The right equipment is needed, the right connections, video conferencing software, security and anything an employee may need to be productive in a remote environment.

Telework will continue to be a trend that is explored by government in 2013. There is no doubt that as we become more connected by technology, the need to always be in a physical location will become obsolete. For some roles, telework may be more preferable, but there are some common challenges and roadblocks agencies must need to work through.

1. HP Sponsors Wounded Warriors Softball Game at AFCEA West
2. What Are Your Tech Needs for Teleworking?
3. Gov 2.0 – Where Are We Now and Where Are We Going?
4. Sneak Peak of HP New Media Gallery at Newseum – Audio
5. Managing the Mobile Workforce: It’s all about grapes, cucumbers, m…
6. PVA Kids Day 2012: Veterans Continue to Give Back
7. PVA Kids Day Video Recap
8. Improving ROI by Investing in the Mobile Workforce
9. Telework Calculator Shows Your Savings Gained from Teleworking
10. Technology Facilitating Early Voting Initiatives in New Jersey
11. Air Force Case Study: Cost Savings from Modernizing Technology

HP’s mission is to invent technologies and services that drive business value, create social benefit and improve the lives of customers — with a focus on affecting the greatest number of people possible. Check out their HP for Gov group on GovLoop as well as the Technology Sub-Community of which they are a council member.

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