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Agencies work to make teleworking work

Oct. 4, 2012 - 08:12PM   |  

Federal agencies are finding creative ways to tackle policy and cultural barriers to telework.

At the General Services Administration, senior managers are using online collaboration tools to conduct office meetings virtually, where possible.

“It doesn’t matter that we’re all in the same building,” said Wade Hannum, director of performance and worklife policy at GSA. “It’s all online.”

The shift, in some ways, is preparation for managers who will be facing bolder changes when GSA moves into its renovated headquarters building in northwest Washington next year.

Employees will not have permanent workstations, and there will be a greater emphasis on mobile technology and telework.

“It’s in your agency’s best interest to understand it [telework], embrace it and exploit its value for you, your customers and your employees,” Hannum said last week at a Telework Exchange conference. “It’s here to stay.”

GSA’s telework policy has been in place only a year, but the agency is updating it to address the rise of virtual and satellite teleworkers.

Hannum said it’s important for GSA to spell out agency and employee responsibilities in various situations.

For instance, Hannum said, if an employee moves to another state as a full-time teleworker, but GSA determines that work arrangement is too costly for the agency, what are GSA’s responsibilities to that employee?

Similarly, when and how should GSA make a telework-eligible position ineligible for telework if managers discover it isn’t working well?

GSA is reviewing every position classified as full-time telework-eligible and satellite-eligible to see if changes are needed, he said.

To enhance telework, GSA will also:

• Increase the use of mobile and remote technologies, such as Google’s online tools that allow managers to chat with employees online and keep tabs on their employees remotely.

• Review travel policies that affect full-time teleworkers and dictate when teleworkers are eligible for transit subsidies. In many cases, travel budget restrictions are driving GSA decisions on whether to make certain positions telework-eligible.

• Revise employee performance plans to ensure expectations for teleworkers are no different than for non-teleworkers.

At the Office of Personnel Management, one problem is that telework policies are applied inconsistently, said Rebecca Ayers, manager for performance management solutions at OPM. Some managers embrace telework, while others are more resistant, she said.

OPM encourages managers and employees to share the benefits of telework with their colleagues, she said.

Ayers advised agencies to keep their business cases for telework handy and, as administrations change, to educate new agency leaders on telework’s benefits.

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