Jul 08 2014

Why Agencies Need Technology to Enhance Work-Life Programs

President Obama is requiring agencies to expand workplace flexibilities that will help to attract, retain and empower employees.

Empowering employees to balance their home and work lives is becoming less of a perk and more of a must-have flexibility agencies should be extending to their workforces.

In a memo last month, President Barack Obama made clear that all agencies must periodically make federal employees aware that “they have the right to request work schedule flexibilities available to them under law,” via collective bargaining agreements or under agency policy, “without fear of retaliation or adverse employment action.”

Agencies such as the General Services Administration and Patent and Trademark Office have proved that technology plays a critical role in creating a culture and work environment that supports the productive and efficient use of work-life programs.

FedTech spoke with Mika Cross, a USDA flexible workplace strategist, who works as a Presidential Management Council (PMC) Fellow at the Office of Personnel Management. Cross explains the role technology will play as agencies respond to the president’s memo. Here’s a brief summary of her comments.

Courtesy Mika Cross

Mika Cross is a USDA flexible workplace strategist, who works as a Presidential Management Council (PMC) Fellow at the Office of Personnel Management

What role does technology play in facilitating conversations about work schedule flexibilities?

The issue of workplace flexibility is now being addressed by stakeholders across government in a much more open, transparent and collaborative fashion. No longer is it solely a human capital policy issue, but rather how key leaders from IT, facilities, operations, human resources and their labor partners can come together to shape effective flexibility workplace programs so employees can be their most productive selves while on duty.

Mobile technology and remote access options can effectively help drive the facilitation of these conversations about work schedule flexibilities by offering options that enable employees to work from anywhere, anytime while still focusing on the mission. And when effective training programs equip both employees and their managers with the right sets of skills needed to optimize their performance and focus on accountability and results, it’s a win-win for the workplace.

President Obama’s memo says, "agencies shall make federal employees aware, on a periodic basis, that they have the right to request work schedule flexibilities.” What role does technology play in making this possible today, and how do you envision it will further facilitate this process?

The president’s memo will push federal agencies to become strategically focused on ensuring we collaboratively create a 21st-century workplace by increasing access for both women and men from all generations.

A recent Mobile Work Exchange study found that seven out of 10 feds say their agency’s remote connectivity and mobile access has changed their work style — increasing efficiency, availability and engagement. This demonstrates that when agencies dedicate workplace policies and the right technology solutions that support employees and working families, it’s an investment that can pay dividends.

As the government transitions to a more mobile workplace, the focus will be more on results and gaining accountability and productivity, which all help to drive engagement.

Traditionally, how do agencies request work schedule flexibilities, such as telework, and what benefits and barriers does technology, or the lack of automated processes, create?

It depends and varies from agency to agency; however, many still rely on paper-based applications for requesting telework. Most delegate to the first-line supervisor for approval, and many require a second-level supervisor to include a final approval as well. This becomes problematic with data collection and reporting requirements and presents an opportunity for the government to streamline approaches to its human capital personnel systems.

If agencies are relying on paper-based applications for telework, it can slow down the process and inhibit data collection measures for agencies to show who is participating. OPM [is] working with payroll providers to consistently change the time codes for telework so it allows a more consistent approach to how agencies report that data.

What progress have agencies made in enabling employees to telework and take advantage of alternative work schedules? What are the barriers?

It is imperative that as organizations move toward more progressive workplace policies that they emphasize a shared responsibility for making them a success. Employees will need to be accountable, responsive and accessible, and leaders will need to trust the process and hold their teams accountable for demonstrating results. It’s through this process that enhanced employee engagement can also be achieved.

As agencies become more flexible, mobile and agile, their ability to collaborate, set team protocols and leverage technology to work together and remain connected will help drive more effective communication, management relationships and enhanced service delivery for the American public, whom we serve.

OPM is already working to leverage additional flexible work options for federal employees who are on the cusp of transitioning to retirement through its ongoing phased retirement initiative.

Comstock Images/ThinkStock