Practicing what she preaches

Jen Steele directs the largest telework program in Louisiana state government — and is a teleworker herself.

The Work@Home program Steele helped establish last July for Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals’ Medicaid agency is on track to have 134 participants by the end of February. That’s out of a universe of 900 employees. Teleworkers handle tasks such as Medicaid eligibility determination. The largest single group of department teleworkers came from a once-centralized call center that has since dispersed into home-based offices.

Telework program vitals

AGENCY: Medicaid office of Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.

TELEWORKER POPULATION: About 15 percent of 900-employee workforce. Telecommuting policy applies to the entire department, but Medicaid is the only agency participating. There are plans to have 160 to 170 teleworkers in place by the end of 2009.

TYPES OF JOBS: Program management, eligibility determination and call center representatives.

TELEWORK GEAR: Wyse thin-client computer and two flat-panel displays; wireless router; Centrex phone lines for call center reps; access to the state network and applications through Citrix Access Gateway.

Teleworkers, Steele said, “have to be well suited both in terms of job duties and work habits…and they have to have a supervisor supportive of the program as well.” Steele moved into telework in steps.

She initially commuted 60 miles one way to a full-time job with DHH in Baton Rouge. Years later, after the birth of a child with special medical needs, Steele transitioned to a part-time position in a department office closer to her home in Lafayette. Issues with her child care arrangements, however, led to discussions about home-based work.

In October 2007, Steele began working at home and was soon assigned to create a telework pilot program, which became the Work@Home program. She developed the program’s policies, training materials and teleworker-selection process. She pursued this research and development phase with the agency’s managers, IT and field staff. She also drew on the experience of the Arizona Medicaid agency’s telework program, Virtual Office.

Most Work@Home participants are frontline workers, such as employees who determine Medicaid eligibility.

Steele said such workers were not candidates for telework until recently because the state used to require face-to-face interviews with Medicaid applicants.

By transitioning from paper files to electronic case records, the agency paved the way for eligibility-determination staff to telework.

A 2008 Gulf Coast hurricane, meanwhile, was the impetus for the Customer Service Center’s telework push. The storm knocked out power to the Baton Rouge state office building that housed the call center, which operates toll-free lines serving Medicaid applicants and enrollees.

Steele said the center’s manager quickly realized the benefits of decentralizing the unit: Many home-based workers could still have power even if the main office doesn’t.

Work@Home participants also will include unit supervisors. Steele noted that the first local office manager begins teleworking in January.

The program has had to work around some business process and regulatory considerations. For example, teleworkers must visit a health and hospitals office once a week to sign a payroll sheet. She said the state’s Office of the Legislative Auditor requires paper payroll sheets with original signatures.

However, for the most part, Work@Home has encountered only a few hitches. “We were surprised how smoothly it went,” Steele said.

About the Author

John Moore is a freelance writer based in Syracuse, N.Y.

The 2015 Federal 100

Meet 100 women and men who are doing great things in federal IT.


  • Shutterstock image (by venimo): e-learning concept image, digital content and online webinar icons.

    Can MOOCs make the grade for federal training?

    Massive open online courses can offer specialized IT instruction on a flexible schedule and on the cheap. That may not always mesh with government's preference for structure and certification, however.

  • Shutterstock image (by edel): graduation cap and diploma.

    Cybersecurity: 6 schools with the right stuff

    The federal government craves more cybersecurity professionals. These six schools are helping meet that demand.

  • Rick Holgate

    Holgate to depart ATF

    Former ACT president will take a job with Gartner, follow his spouse to Vienna, Austria.

  • Are VA techies slacking off on Yammer?

    A new IG report cites security and productivity concerns associated with employees' use of the popular online collaboration tool.

  • Shutterstock image: digital fingerprint, cyber crime.

    Exclusive: The OPM breach details you haven't seen

    An official timeline of the Office of Personnel Management breach obtained by FCW pinpoints the hackers’ calibrated extraction of data, and the government's step-by-step response.

  • Stephen Warren

    Deputy CIO Warren exits VA

    The onetime acting CIO at Veterans Affairs will be taking over CIO duties at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

  • Shutterstock image: monitoring factors of healthcare.

    DOD awards massive health records contract

    Leidos, Accenture and Cerner pull off an unexpected win of the multi-billion-dollar Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization contract, beating out the presumptive health-records leader.

  • Sweating the OPM data breach -- Illustration by Dragutin Cvijanovic

    Sweating the stolen data

    Millions of background-check records were compromised, OPM now says. Here's the jaw-dropping range of personal data that was exposed.

  • FCW magazine

    Let's talk about Alliant 2

    The General Services Administration is going to great lengths to gather feedback on its IT services GWAC. Will it make for a better acquisition vehicle?

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above