Improving telework adoption

Telework has become more popular throughout government, thanks to widespread initiatives and an understanding that it boosts productivity, improves collaboration, reduces costs, and improves work/life balance and job satisfaction. According to a report from Global Workplace Analytics, telework currently saves the federal government more than $6 billion per year, reduces absenteeism by 31percent and increases productivity by 13 percent.

Yet for many agencies, adoption is still relatively low. According to the Global Workplace Analytics study, only about one-third of federal employees eligible for telework take advantage of it.

There are many reasons why telework hasn’t taken off more strongly in government. According to Mobile Work Exchange, the top reason is security; 47percent have concerns about the security of telework arrangements. Second on the list is available funding, followed by culture. Other reasons include lack of training and slow development of mobility policies.

Conquering obstacles

Improving the adoption of telework can help agencies reach the productivity, cost and satisfaction goals that robust telework programs can provide.

Security: While it’s understandable that security would be a top concern, telework can actually be as safe as or safer than traditional work structures if it is set up properly. That means addressing every aspect of data security, from paper files and storage devices to removable media and telecommunications equipment. It also means ensuring that government data is fully separate from personal property and information. OPM’s 2013 Status of Telework report found that agencies use a variety of methods to secure Personally Identifiable Information, for example:

  • Encryption and/or password protection
  • Two-factor authentication used for remote access
  • Privileged Rules of Behavior are signed for those handling PII
  • Only those with a compelling need are allowed to download PII
  • Only government-furnished equipment is allowed for telework
  • No PII, sensitive or classified information can be physically removed from the agency facility
  • No PII, sensitive or classified information can be transmitted electronically from the agency facility

Culture: Culture change is tough, especially when baby boomers are managing millennials. Millennials are the future of government, and they expect to be able to work wherever they want, from whatever device they want, at any time. That means that managers must accept telework. That requires substantial training for managers in how to manage remotely, handle employee concerns, implement change and ensure compliance with processes, rules and regulations related to telework.

Training: In addition to managerial training, teleworking employees also must be trained on how to remain productive from remote locations, how to work on a distributed team, effective communication, and workload management. They should also be trained in the technology they will use to work and collaborate, such as video conferencing, virtual collaboration and remote file access.

While these challenges are difficult, there is progress being made. In August, the Office of Personnel Management issued a memorandum on enhancing workplace flexibilities and work-life programs, designed to encourage more telework throughout the federal government. The memo explains employees’ rights to request work schedule flexibility without fear of retaliation, among other issues. OPM plans to issue further guidance to help further adoption of telework and other programs that increase work-life balance for federal employees.