OPM report says telework is no longer just a convenience for workers but a required tool for agencies in era of tight budgets and continuous operations.
The Office of Personnel Management's just-released 2013 Government Management Report cites worker satisfaction with telework programs as one of the few bright spots in federal employment, and NASA's Work From Anywhere program, which was initiated after passage of the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, earned special praise.
According to NASA, the program paid off immediately, saving the government $30 million per day during the government shutdown caused by snowstorms in 2010.
As NASA's experience demonstrates, expanding telework isn't just about employee satisfaction. If managed properly, it can make government more efficient. "It's a movement being driven not only by employees' desire for flexibility in integrating work and home life, but also by a growing realization of the importance of such flexibility for the operation of government," said Cindy Auten, general manager of Mobile Work Exchange, a public-private partnership focused on demonstrating the value of mobility and telework.
While challenges remain – especially with respect to security – telework is gradually getting easier and more secure for agencies to implement. That’s due to the availability of new tools for secure compartmentalization of business and personal data on mobile devices, data locking and wiping capabilities as well as centralized application management.
One of the newest additions to the telework toolkit is Windows To Go, a feature of Microsoft Windows 8 Enterprise that allows IT staff to install full versions of the operating system and applications, as well as security tools and group policies, onto USB 3.0 drives for distribution to staff working remotely.
When the user plugs in the USB drive, he is working in a secure environment that is isolated from whatever else is on the device. The drive, by the way, can be encrypted with BitLocker Drive Encryption, ensuring that if the drive is lost the data cannot be accessed.
Fairfax County, Va., has already distributed 150 Windows To Go drives to staff, and plans to distribute 200 more drives to contractors who need regular access to county networks.
Agencies working with legacy equipment also have hurdles to smooth and secure telework. To begin with, if an agency is to provide teleworkers with federally owned and managed equipment, it is an additional cost and presents users with the inconvenience of working with multiple devices. And if the agency relies on providing applications and connectivity via privately owned equipment, security is a major challenge.
In a bulletin covering March 2013-2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture advises that when teleworkers are using their own equipment, they are responsible for ensuring that antivirus software is installed and updated, that a full system scan is conducted at least once a week and that a partial scan is done before connecting to a federal network.
The bulletin also advises that users must have firewalls running and that they must not run peer-to-peer applications while connected to the federal network. Finally, "the teleworker must not screen capture, print or store PII [personally identifiable information] or security sensitive information" on private devices.
NEXT STORY: Programming tests separate wheat from chaff