You are here

Home Sweet Office

With government leaders pressing for increased teleworking, federal agencies strive to change the mindset of supervisors and employees and to equip staff with the necessary technology.

Tom Salter's morning commute typically takes
about 10 seconds.

The computer specialist for the Treasury
Department can march into his home
office, fire up his computer and, a minute
later, begin working. He no longer must
endure the stress of a two-hour morning train ride to an
office in Washington—and after work, he no longer has
to muster the energy for another train ride home.

Salter's supervisors are supportive: They've equipped his
home office with a notebook computer, high-speed Internet
access and a cell phone. According to Salter, teleworking
eases his stress, gives him the quiet he needs to write
software programs and makes him more productive.

"I worked for years in the office, but there
were so many interruptions that I wouldn't
get anything done," he recalls. "So I stayed
nights to get work done, and I was
miserable." Salter now teleworks full-time
from his Marshall, Va., home. "My house is
perfectly quiet, I get a lot more done, and I see
a lot more of my family," he says.

Although only 5 percent of all federal
employees telework, the federal government
is a big proponent of teleworking (also called
telecommuting) and is a trailblazer in the
movement to let more employees work from
home, teleworking experts say.

Congress and every president since 1990
have encouraged federal agencies to offer
teleworking because it boosts the morale of
government employees and helps them
better balance their work and family
obligations. It also serves as a recruiting tool
for potential employees, saves the
government money by reducing office use
and eases traffic congestion, which lightens
the load on the environment. In addition,
teleworking lets agencies continue
operating in the event of a natural disaster or
terrorist attack that would prevent federal
workers from reaching their offices.

"I would put what the federal government
has done up against any private sector
company any day," says Gil Gordon,
president of Gil Gordon Associates in
Monmouth Junction, N.J., and a board
member of the International Telework
Association and Council in Silver Spring, Md.

"There's been a great deal of creativity in
adapting telework across a diverse family of
jobs, from the IRS to the departments of
Justice and Agriculture and the military. It's
taken the government years to develop
policies, manuals and training resources, so
each agency doesn't have to reinvent it and
start from scratch."

The federal government's advocacy of
teleworking began with pilot projects in the
1990s and culminated in a law, PL 106-346,
in October 2000 requiring federal agencies
to develop teleworking policies that give
qualified workers an opportunity to work
from home. In the metropolitan Washington
area, 15 telework centers provide workspace
for employees in or near their hometown,
so they don't have to trek to their offices.

In addition, two agencies in charge of
promoting teleworking—the Office of
Personnel Management (OPM) and the
General Services Administration (GSA)—
have developed a Web site, Telework.gov,
that provides education and resources.
The site includes step-by-step guides and
sample agreements for managers and
employees.

Among cabinet-level agencies, the
Education Department is a leader, with
31 percent of its employees teleworking.
The Treasury has 22 percent, and the
Labor Department has 18 percent,
according to a 2002 OPM survey.

Data Security Concerns

But most agencies have been slow to make
teleworking a priority. Concern about data
security and IT issues are the top two
reasons agencies gave OPM for going slow
with teleworking. Management resistance
ranks third, according to OPM's 2002
survey.

Each agency has a telework coordinator
who oversees the effort. But a lack of
involvement by federal CIOs and other
senior IT managers is a major obstacle. The
survey found that many agencies have not
developed plans to meet teleworkers'
technology needs and instead have left all
such technology decisions up to their
supervisors.

If IT staff became more involved, it would
help resolve these technology issues, says
Stanley Kaczmarczyk, director of the
Innovative Workplaces Division of the Office
of Real Property in GSA's Office of
Governmentwide Policy.

"There is no single technology barrier,
but for each [problem], there is a
solution," Kaczmarczyk says. "For
example, for the security problem, there's
hardware, software and training." Also,
he notes, "CIOs should be involved with
planning, coordinating and funding the
telework programs."

Making IT Work

One Treasury agency has overcome the
barriers to teleworking. At the Treasury
Inspector General for Tax Administration
(TIGTA), 92 percent of the agency's
nearly 1,000 employees telework on
occasion, with 35 percent teleworking at
least twice a week.

When the agency launched a test
program three years ago, the employees
responsible for overseeing the Internal
Revenue Service were enthusiastic, but
most managers balked. The agency sent
the managers to training sessions that
explained the virtues of teleworking and
taught them how to manage employees
remotely.

"Managers are used to walking down
the hall and seeing employees hard at
work," says TIGTA CIO Joe Hungate. "In
the training, we hit home the point that
you need to be managing the results and
performance, not whether they
are sitting at their desks."

The effort couldn't have
succeeded without the strong
backing of agency leaders.
"No one will do anything that
their boss doesn't want done,"

Hungate points out, "so
unless the heads of the agency
make it known, there will be
resistance."

Hungate has invested heavily
to give teleworkers the
technology they need for home
offices, including notebook
computers, printers and a cell
phone or second phone line. The
agency also pays for half the cost
of high-speed Internet access.

To ensure network access, he
standardized on the type of
routers that teleworkers use at
home and installed virtual
private network (VPN)
technology so employees could
retrieve e-mail and securely
connect to headquarters. He
added IT staff, increased the help
desk's operating hours, and
installed remote management
software on notebooks so IT staff
could control teleworkers'
computers for troubleshooting
problems.

Trained to Succeed

The IT staff trained each teleworker to
ensure they knew how to use the
technology, Hungate says. The only
stumbling block is that some areas don't
offer high-speed Internet access. "If you
don't have cable or DSL, you don't have
enough bandwidth to do meaningful
work," he says.

Because a percentage of TIGTA workers
telework each day, they can share desks,
which reduces the need for office space.
TIGTA annually avoids incurring an
additional $200,000 in rent in Washington
and $100,000 in Atlanta, Hungate says.

"We have a reservation system," he
explains. "You call up a concierge and
reserve office space for the times you are
required to be in an office."

Other agencies have found different
ways to provide technology to teleworkers.
For instance, when OPM upgrades its
desktop computers, teleworkers can take
old computers home for work, says Abby
Block, deputy associate director of OPM's
Center for Employee and Family Support
Policy.

The Agency for International
Development has a large workforce that
works remotely from around the world.
In the past, workers connected to
headquarters through VPNs; now the
agency has made it even easier.

The IT staff has created a Web site that
international workers and domestic
teleworkers can easily log onto to access
their e-mail, files and office productivity
software. All they need is Internet access
and a Web browser.

To ensure security, each worker carries
a hardware device the size of a pocket
watch that displays a six-digit personal
identification number (PIN) that changes
every minute, says Phil Gordon, the
agency's security operations manager. To
make the connection at the Web site
secure, users type in their identification
number and the PIN, which synchronizes
with a server at the data center to verify
the user and allow access.

Give it a Try

To increase federal teleworking, the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission
(EEOC) is offering notebook computers, cell
phones and multifunction (print, scan and
fax) machines to employees who telework at
least six days every two weeks. Even with the
technology investment, the agency will save
money because teleworking reduces the
need for office space, says Joann Riggs,
assistant director of the EEOC's human
resources office.

OPM and GSA officials state that any
workers who can do their jobs at home
(such as researchers), as well as those who
have disabilities or are recovering from
injuries, should be allowed to telework.

OPM's Block encourages skeptical
supervisors and employees to try
teleworking. "When there's uncertainty
among managers and employees, we're
advocating that they try it as a test, with
no commitment from either party to
make it permanent," she says. "They can
try it for three months and see if it works.
If it works, then we encourage them to do
it regularly." If the experiment doesn't
work, Block adds, they can always stop.

Annual internal employee surveys show
worker satisfaction has increased at TIGTA,
according to Hungate, and 58 percent of
employees say that teleworking is the reason.

For telework to succeed, supervisors
and employees must agree on performance
expectations, Hungate points out.
Employers must also set parameters, such
as how often people check e-mail. Only
about a dozen TIGTA employees have lost
their teleworking privileges because of poor
work performance, he says.

Staying Productive

At the Agency for International
Development, Maribeth Zankowski,
teleworker and senior management analyst
for workforce planning, says she guards
against slacking off by acting as though she
were going to work at her agency office.

"I get up at the same time and start
working when I would normally leave the
house," says Zankowski, who teleworks
every Friday. "It's important to stay
disciplined, with no distractions."

Mary Lynne Schwartz, an EEOC
attorney, says the flexibility lets her better
balance work and family. "I start work at 7
a.m. and work until I pick up the kids from
school, and if I'm behind—a rare
exception—I will work that evening to
finish what I didn't complete," she says.

For Treasury's Salter, his 10-second
commute to his home office is easy—it's
stopping work that's hard.

"Instead of four hours of commuting, I
take advantage of those hours and end up
working more," says Salter. "If things are
going well, it could be 3 a.m. before I stop.
But the nice thing is, I sleep in the next day."

Salter remembers with no fondness the
rigid 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. schedule of his
first days as a government employee
nearly 30 years ago. And he's happy with
the change in policy.

"That's one nice thing about our
office," he says. "They're concerned about
getting the work done. How you do it
doesn't matter."

TELEWORK CENTERS
OFFER AN APPEALING ALTERNATIVE

Federal workers who don't want to commute to the
office and don't want to work from home have a third
option: telework centers.

The General Services Administration (GSA) operates
15 telework centers in the Washington area, giving
suburban employees from every agency, as well as
some employees from the private sector, a workplace
close to home.

The centers, originally funded by Congress and
located in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia,
provide desks with a computer, high-speed Internet
access and a telephone, as well as printers, fax
machines, copiers and tech support.

"Some people can't work from home because they
have small children, noisy neighborhoods or they
don't have suitable spaces for work," points out
Stanley Kaczmarczyk, director of the Innovative
Workplaces Division of the Office of Real Property in
GSA's Office of Governmentwide Policy.

"Some people like to get out of the house to
work, but instead of fighting traffic for 80 minutes
to go to the office, they can drive six minutes to a
telework center and have a professional work
environment," he says.

The centers have a 50 percent to 60 percent
occupancy rate. GSA charges a user fee that varies,
depending on the center. However, as in last winter, it
occasionally offers free trials to first-time users to
increase participation.

FEDERAL
STAY-AT-HOME
WORKERS

Percentage of employees
at federal agencies who
telework at least part-time:

• Agency for International
Development 62%

• Office of Personnel
Management 41%

• National Science
Foundation 33%

• Federal Deposit
Insurance Corp.
32%

• Education
31%

• Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission 26%

• Federal Communications
Commission 25%

• Environmental
Protection Agency 24%

• Treasury 22%

• Labor 18%

• Commerce 15%

Source: The Status of Telework in the
Federal Government, 2002 survey, Office
of Personnel Management.

Dec 31 2009

Comments