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Telework challenge: Employees who resist telework tools

As more federal agencies embrace telework, managers might have to come up with creative ways to get workers to use more collaborative and social media-related technology. Some agencies are finding that teleworkers are hesitant about using Web conferencing, instant messaging and other social tools, perhaps from a concern that their supervisors are looking over their shoulders.

Agriculture Department executives discussed the advantages and challenges of using collaboration tools at the FCW Executive Briefing, “Enabling Collaboration and Telework Adoption,” May 30 in D.C.

USDA uses Cisco’s Telepresence video conferencing and Microsoft Live Meeting technology, while employees in the field use tablets with webcams to communicate with other workers, said Robin Bailey, deputy administrator for management with USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service. Within FNS, the IT group, which is dispersed throughout the country, uses collaboration and social tools and shares information with other program areas to help spur use of the tools, Bailey said.

But not all agencies within USDA have the same collaboration software. “So I might host a meeting and some coordinators, because of their agency security restrictions, are not able to use” certain collaboration tools, said Mika Cross, USDA’s Work/Life and Wellness program manager. Still, there is a need to expose employees and telework coordinators to virtual environments. So Cross hosted a Google + Hangout, which allows users to have voice and video conversations, after work during National Telework Week in March, complete with avatars.

A Cisco and Mobile Telework Exchange survey of federal workers who pledged to telework during Telework Week indicated that many were using laptops with virtual private network connections, Cross noted. Use of virtual desktops, video teleconferencing and tablets was 10 percent and under, she noted.

However, Cross said that she is happy with “baby steps,” such as getting people comfortable using laptops at home or logging into a remote virtual desktop using two-factor authentication, or just learning how to transfer their office telephone to their home phone.

Meanwhile, USDA is looking to connect workers across agencies with its Next Generation Mobility initiative. The ability to work across agencies has been ineffective as a result of agencies having different systems, Bailey said. For example, FNS employees are co-located with employees from Rural Development, but cannot communicate because they are on different systems.

USDA is now looking at how the department can develop a common platform to work across agencies. “We are not quite there yet,” he said. “We are looking at the Next Generation Mobility solution, which is going to give us flexibility to plug and play across various agencies that fall under USDA,” Bailey said.

The Next Generation Mobility solution will also help in the management of a “bring your own device” approach, he noted. “We are looking forward to BYOD” and equipment such as having a PC-on-a-stick, which will help address challenges of working in rural communities, Bailey said.

“There are challenges we face on a daily basis that are not challenges most people face,” Bailey said.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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