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Editorial: Implement telework wisely

Feb. 21, 2010 - 06:00AM   |  
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Three feet of snow within a week closed federal offices in Washington for 4 days and cost an estimated $45 million in lost productivity. Telework advocates, including Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry, say the fallout from "snowmageddon" could have been sharply reduced were more federal employees and managers more practiced and equipped for teleworking.

They are right that more must be done to promote teleworking not just so agencies can operate through nasty blizzards, but so government can reap the many other benefits that can come with an effective teleworking workforce. Those include greater productivity, a more versatile and portable government operation, better employee morale, a better work/life balance that attracts high-caliber job candidates, lower real estate costs, fewer sick days taken by employees and less traffic congestion and energy consumption.

managers understandably worry that allowing employees to work from home or a telework center will lead to plummeting productivity.

But there is much anecdotal evidence that managers and employees who smartly implement teleworking programs are as productive or more productive than before they telecommuted. The key is in allowing the right employees in the right positions to work outside the office. Those who perform well in the office would be the best candidates; poor performers would be poor candidates. Teleworking should be treated as a privilege earned, not an automatic right. And certainly not all jobs are ideal candidates for teleworking the top priority should be that a teleworking arrangement benefits the office first and foremost.

To make teleworking successful on a large scale, managers need to develop sound business cases for it by identifying clear cost savings and benefits, determining which positions and employees could telework to improve the office's performance and bottom line, and developing effective metrics for evaluating the performance of teleworking employees. Having made their case, managers must be given the funds necessary for effective training, hardware, software and help-desk support.

Telework promises many benefits, but its success depends upon the thought, resources and effort that are put into it.

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