It's now official: Federal employees have been notified whether they are eligible to telework. The notifications, required under the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act, were preceded by months of activity by federal chief human capital officers (CHCOs) and their telework managing officers who shepherded decision-making on issues of scheduling and availability, performance reviews, office culture and work space allocation.
One area that requires more attention is the "tele" side of telework.
With their telework agreements and laptops in hand, many employees telework, but how are they connecting to the network? How secure is the connection? What is the best, most cost-effective approach to ensuring connectivity for teleworkers? These are many of the questions keeping telework managing officers up at night.
Here's the challenge: Network strategies for teleworkers differ throughout the federal government. In many instances, agencies rely on teleworkers to provide their own network connectivity, either by leveraging their personal Internet service plans or by purchasing connectivity and submitting the bill for reimbursement. This approach is creating a disparate network of networks, with individual teleworkers using different technologies and service providers to meet their telework needs. For example, within one organization, Teleworker A may have DSL through one provider, while Teleworker B uses wireless through another provider, and Teleworker C leverages satellite services through yet another provider.
Under this approach to networking, three problem areas arise:
• Teleworkers will become their own information technology support staff. If teleworkers are responsible for purchasing their own network connectivity, they will also bear the burden of troubleshooting network problems — which will inevitably result in any number of hours in lost productivity.
• Teleworkers will experience differing levels in network quality of service. Some teleworkers may have access to high-quality broadband, while others may be located in areas where delivery speeds and reliability are marginal, leaving them unable to access information in a timely fashion, or not at all, and — again — impeding productivity. Others will purchase only what they can afford, which may not provide sufficient bandwidth to access cloud applications or deliver reports as part of their jobs.
• Security vulnerabilities will increase. Federal networks are attacked on a daily basis from a global and highly active cyberspace. To keep the bad guys at bay, suitable defenses can be employed within the office local area network, including dedicated private networks and strict security policies.
But connecting off-site teleworkers using multiple service providers and different technologies escalates the risk to network security. It also raises the most difficult issue: How are agencies able to cope with the recent Office of Management and Budget directive that information systems supporting telework comply with the Federal Information Security Management Act?
The simple solution: Agencies should employ a nationally managed broadband service to connect teleworkers to their respective networks or clouds. With such a nationally managed broadband service, teleworkers — regardless of their location or method of transport (cable, fiber, wireless, satellite, etc.) — would be connected to their agency's network or cloud under a uniform, high-quality broadband plan.
Telework managers would no longer need to worry about network performance or security differences or shortcomings — all of their teleworkers would have a consistent quality of broadband service.
Adopting such an approach means telework managers will also rest easy knowing their teleworkers are out of the network-troubleshooting business. Because the network is managed, the service provider is responsible for providing technical support. The agency has complete visibility into the network at all times. The network service provider also is responsible for complying with all security policies and working with the agency to safeguard network security.
With the implementation of the Telework Enhancement Act, the government has begun to usher in a historic change in how employees meet their agency missions. CHCOs and their telework managing officers have acted swiftly and masterfully to address the people and process challenges of telework by assessing employee eligibility, establishing telework agreements and managing other organizational challenges. Now it is time to address the "tele" part of telework — by employing a nationally managed broadband service.
Tony Bardo is assistant vice president for government solutions at Hughes.