Making telework work

GCN Lab TV at FOSE 2008 The GCN Lab guys take their testing on the road to the FOSE trade show in downtown Washington DC. Come check out all the great products from the show that may soon be installed at your federal agency. Watch them here.

The greatest barriers to telework in the federal government today are ignorance and middle managers, according to panelists who discussed the subject at the FOSE Conference and Exposition in Washington this week.

The No. 1 obstacle is middle managers, said Joseph Hungate, the Treasury Department's principal deputy inspector general for tax administration. Yet if middle managers are allowed to telework and are given the tools to manage their employees remotely, including metrics on employee productivity, resistance to the idea is dramatically lowered, he said.

'Managers need to get away from managing conduct and start managing product,' he said.

Additionally, 42 percent of federal employees don't know if they are eligible to telework, and one-third are not aware if their agency has a policy on telework, said Joel Brunson, president of Tandberg Federal, a New York-based provider of videoconferencing equipment and mobile video devices to the federal government.

'We've done a good job of expounding upon what are the benefits of teleworking.' If we spent as much time [educating federal employees on eligibility], we would see an even greater adoption rate,' Brunson said.

To attract the next generation of workers, agencies must offer telework as an option, said Stephen O'Keeffe, executive director of the public/private Telework Exchange, based in Alexandria, Va.

The organization hosted a series of focus groups to better understand Generation Y employees in the federal technology field. In a report released in November, the organization found that such employees have chosen to work in the federal government because of benefits that include telework.

'There are 17 million people born between 1977 and 2002,' O'Keeffe said. 'They are entering the workforce today, and they want to be flexible. They are mobile. They know information security is critical, but they want the system to be user-friendly. They recognize privacy, but if it compromises functionality, that is not going to cut it.'

According to CDW Government, a subsidiary of CDW Corp. and an IT solutions provider to the federal government, the federal sector is ahead of the private sector when it comes to telework: 17 percent of federal employees telework compared to 14 percent in the private sector.

However, the number of eligible federal employees has dipped to 40 percent from a high of 55 percent in 2006, most likely due to security concerns, the company said in its fourth annual telework survey released March 31.

Although security remains a pressing issue for the federal government, telework has the benefit of enabling an agency to continuing functioning during a disaster or even smaller incidents such as snowstorms.

It also improves employee morale and saves money, Hungate said. Treasury's telework program saves the agency $1 million annually on rent, he added.

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.


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