The Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, signed into law a year ago this month by President Obama, created a lot of buzz around the word ‘telework.’
According to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) memorandum, the Act provides a framework for agencies to better leverage technology and to maximize the use of flexible work arrangements, which will aid in recruiting new federal workers, retain valuable talent and allow the government to maintain productivity in various situations.
When building effective telework programs for each agency, three key objectives are recognized by OPM: to improve continuity of operations, using telework to keep government operational during inclement weather or other emergencies; to promote management effectiveness, using telework to target reductions in management costs related to employee turnover and absenteeism, also reducing real estate costs, environmental impact and transit costs; and to enhance work-life balance, using telework to allow employees to better manage their work and family obligations, retaining a more resilient workforce able to better meet agency goals.
As we celebrate the anniversary of President Obama signing this Act, we reflect back on this past year, which has proven just how important telework can be and the many benefits it provides, especially during times of disaster. From power outages to ‘Snowmaggedon’ to flooding to unexpected earthquakes, this year across the globe natural disasters have interrupted normal work routines, closing government office buildings for significant stretches of time.
One of the most obvious advantages of telework as related to disaster preparedness is the decentralization it provides. If power is lost, or floods or other natural disasters require an office to be closed, the team that can telework from remote locations can get back to work more quickly to continue to support the mission.
As mandated by the Telework Enhancement Act, each agency has been working on incorporating telework as it fits their needs and the needs of their employees. One example, pointed out in a recent NextGov article, explains how the Peace Corps is adapting telework to benefit their agency. The Peace Corps, which has nine national recruiting offices across the country, has used telework to create field-based recruiting professionals. The agency has already seen savings on travel and real estate since implementing these changes.
The advantages of telework can be seen not only nationally, but worldwide as well. A recent First Post article explains how more Japanese firms are embracing telework after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and the following suspension of other nuclear power facilities meant companies had to do whatever they could to save energy in the midst of greatly reduced electrical supply.
By allowing telework, one organization has been able to alternately switch off lighting on an entire floor, significantly diminishing their energy costs. An official for one of the organizations embracing telework explains that they have decided to take these precautionary measures because it would be too late to act should another disaster strike. In addition to disaster preparedness, they are also promoting telework so that employers can retain talented federal workers that they might lose in the absence of such flexibility.
Leadership development training is crucial when implementing telework within a government organization. Especially as the use of telework grows, and government relies more on decentralized staff and self-reliant and self-motivated workers, certain leadership skills become more important, particularly what we call “The Four C’s”:
• Critical thinking and problem solving: the ability to make decisions, solve problems and take actions as appropriate.
• Effective communication: the ability to synthesize and transmit your ideas both in written and oral forms.
• Collaboration and team building: the ability to work effectively with others, including those from diverse groups and with opposing points of view.
• Creativity and innovation: the ability to see what’s not there and make something happen.
It is clear that telework carries significant benefits when it comes to disaster preparedness and continuity of operations. Leadership development training must be implemented as part of any effective telework effort, to ensure that the workforce has the skills and capabilities needed to keep operations running smoothly. The better government organizations get at telework, the smoother continuity of operations can be implemented in times of disaster.
Sam Davis, VP, AMA Enterprise Government Solutions, leads a team that is dedicated to working with government organizations to build solutions and provide the learning tools needed to transform enterprise-wide talent, fueling a culture of innovation, high performance and optimal organizational results. For more information visit www.amaenterprise.org/gov. Sam can be reached at email@example.com.