Editorial: When the office is optional

We have been hearing about telework for years, and it is a concept that has always seemed enticing. When employees can work from home or some other remote site, they save commuting time and are more productive.

Yet the concept has never really taken hold the way many expected that it would.

Acceptance does seem to be growing, particularly in recent years as workers become increasingly mobile. The Office of Personnel Management’s most recent survey, released in 2005, indicates that the number of federal teleworkers increased by 37 percent to 140,694 people, compared with the 2004 survey.

In recent weeks, the General Services Administration issued telework guidance. A feature in this week’s issue of Federal Computer Week looks at how the approach can be an important part of an effective disaster preparation plan.

The Defense Information Systems Agency is seriously considering telework. Lt. Gen. Charles Croom, DISA’s director, said recently that the agency is hoping to let more of its employees work from home.

DISA’s move may not be totally voluntary, given that the Base Realignment and Closure Commission decided that the agency must move its headquarters from Northern Virginia to Maryland. Facing the prospect of losing valuable employees, DISA officials are considering allowing them a work-at-home option.

Telework can be effective, but it is not as simple as many of its proponents suggest. One reason it has not taken off more quickly is because its proponents have not adequately addressed managers’ concerns. Telework advocates often simply dismiss those concerns as signs of an old-school management style.

Managing in a teleworking world can be difficult. It requires greater communication and more coordination, and it may not work for everybody. In fact, it may not work at all for some organizations.

OPM and GSA have made an effort to provide policies and management courses that can help agencies use telework effectively.

We offer kudos to Croom for his foresight in looking at telework as one way of retaining employees. Today’s mobile world is about options. In many cases, telework can be a viable option, but it isn’t the only one.


About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the DorobekInsider.com, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine, FCW.com, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at PlanetGov.com, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.

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