With the savings on real estate, energy costs and travel expenses along with improved productivity and worker satisfaction, some might think managers and employees would embrace the transition to a telework culture. But that hasn’t been the case for many in the federal workforce.
Still, telework comes with too many benefits to ignore, said panelists at the Telework Exchange Town Hall meeting Tuesday in Washington, D.C. Strong business cases, capable technology, improved employee performance (see GSA performance tracking dashboard video, above) and mandates to reduce greenhouse gases and federal real estate space make telework worth the culture change effort.
“The biggest roadblock to telework is the word telework,” said Wade Hannum, Director of Performance and Worklife Policy for the General Services Administration. “I developed my first telework program at Xerox in 1985. It had nothing to do with employees. It had everything to do with savings and moving that (savings) back into the mission. Back in the 80s it wasn’t telework it was just work. And you had to get it done.
“We are going to reduce the size of the federal footprint,” he added, noting the federal mandates to do so. “You have to figure our how we’re going to get that work done. It’s in an agency’s best interest to understand (telework) and exploit it.”
While panelists heard some success stories and fielded questions from those charged with leading telework programs, the overarching theme was resistance to the concept within agencies.
However, if Richard Slusher can overcome that resistance, it’s likely any federal manager can. In the past year, he’s been charged with preparing a workforce of 3,500 within the Air Force for telework: 81% are ready to go.
“Telework is not an easy sell,” said Slusher, who works for the Headquarters Air Force CIO Support Branch. “But when we connect it to continutity of operations and continuity of business, that works. … Even a military mindset can be changed.”
He obtained leadership buy-in, developed operating instructions, secured the necessary technology and collaborated on accountability plans.
In a lot of ways folks are working more hours due to mobility and telework. Need to look out for employees not killing theselves. We are no longer 730-430 workplace. The employees themselves now work differently with each other.
Panelists, which also included representatives from the Office of Personnel Management, the Air Force and the Department of Defense, said agencies should be pushing ahead with telework plans to gain benefits, but not forcing them. They made suggestions for various forms of resistance: trial periods for workers who are hesitant, accountability and performance plans for managers who are skeptical, use of regional telework hubs at libraries or other locales for employees whose homes aren’t ideal workspaces and perusing telework.gov for more specific ideas.
“It’s all about the technology that allows us to get the work done no matter where we are or what we’re doing,” Hannum said. “We see people that perform better when they’re not in the traditional workspace.”