Remote management

To make telecommuting work, employees and supervisors need structure and training

Teleworking gives employees the freedom to work in their pajamas, theoretically, but federal agencies generally want telecommuters to work within a structure.

That structure takes the form of an agreement signed by an employee and supervisor detailing what is expected in the teleworking relationship. It is the most important tool in managing teleworkers, said DeShawn Shepard, the Transportation Department's director of worklife programs, and program managers at other agencies. Leaving nothing to chance smoothes management of home workers, they said.

Information, training and education of both employees and supervisors can eliminate or reduce most teleworking issues, said DeEtta Roberson-Carter, coordinator of telework, the Employee Assistance Program and WorkLife Programs for the Housing and Urban Development Department.

Mutual trust

Trust is a crucial issue for those who manage teleworkers. The manager and employee must trust each other for telework to succeed, Shepard said. 'This means trusting that the employee is working when you don't see her, and that your supervisor won't leave you out of the loop when it comes to meetings, new projects and awards,' she said. Once trust is established, the supervisor and employee can focus on the most efficient way to produce the work.

Supervisors need to be trained as well on the telecommuting program, Shepard said. They should know what they can ask employees, how often they can contact the employee, and the types of tools available to ensure that the work is being done.

Likewise, employees need training on their responsibilities. For instance, employees must understand how often and when they should contact the office and how to manage their work in terms of results, rather than time, Shepard said.

HUD's best management tool is to post all its teleworking information on its Web site, Roberson-Carter said. The site at www.hud.gov/offices/adm/jobs/telework/content.cfm posts the department's teleworking policies, standards and frequently asked questions. It also has checklists for teleworking employees and their supervisors. When an employee applies to telework, both the employee and supervisor view an online training program over the department's intranet.

But it is difficult for managers to know how to set performance expectations and parameters in the telework arrangement and how to monitor the productivity of teleworkers, Roberson-Carter said said. Performance standards should be the same as for those working in the office. But supervisors hold ultimate approval for all components of the telework agreement, she said.

Information and education

Solutions to those issues focus on information and education. The HUD and telework.gov sites provide data and tips for managers and supervisors. The Agriculture Department's Graduate School offers a course on managing teleworkers, Roberson-Carter said.

Management still has not embraced telecommuting, though opposition has lessened, said Marjorie Adams, Agriculture's work/life policy program manager.

'Agency heads should set the example for supporting teleworkers through teleworking a minimum of one day a month themselves,' Adams said.

But not all managers across government can telecommute. Federal departments differ on policies about who can telecommute, Roberson-Carter said. HUD policy, for instance, does not support supervisors and managers teleworking.

Roberson-Carter said she doesn't hear complaints from employees who telework because 'it is set in stone what supervisory expectations are, and the employees know that.' But more employees would like to telework, she said.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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