December snowstorm highlighted policy disconnect
FCW readers say agencies have no excuse for not making it easier for employees to work from home
- By John S. Monroe
- Jan 21, 2010
There’s nothing like a major snowstorm to highlight the discrepancies in telework policies in the federal government and the rest of the world.
To most employers in the private sector, telework is a no-brainer. When the Washington, D.C., area got buried under nearly two feet of snow in late December, many people simply fired up their laptops at home and logged into their office networks through secure virtual private networks.
Many federal employees, on the other hand, were left scratching their heads. Even if they were fortunate enough to have the necessary equipment, they might not have had a clear policy on whether they should work or just take liberal leave.
Perhaps this state of affairs makes sense to some higher-ups at federal agencies, but not to our readers. Here is a sample of their comments, which have been edited for length, style and clarity.
Welcome to the New Millennium
I don't understand why, in the era of networked offices, teleworking and technology, the federal government should ever close. Are employees using manual typewriters with carbon copies to hand-deliver? What cannot be done remotely by teleconference, e-mail and secure networking? The federal government needs to move into the 21st century.
— Don Goldberg
Telework? No Duh.
I work in state government in a state very familiar with heavy snow. In my 20-plus years of service, we have not closed or received a paid day off due to weather. The state expects those who can get to work to do so, and those who can't are charged a vacation day. Even those who dig out and arrive late are charged vacation time for anything less than a full eight-hour workday — and we are non-union 'salaried' employees. Someone already scheduled to telework that day would be expected to do so; anyone else had better come to work.
The Productivity Payoff
I work for the Federal Aviation Administration in the West where we don't have snow days.... Only recently have nonessential, administrative employees been afforded the option to telework. We have signed agreements and are required to maintain a level of productivity. I easily produce more work in an eight-hour telework day than in a day that I have to fight traffic from and to home.
Many managers will only approve telework for the poorest candidates so they can point to these failures as proof that telework is a bad idea. Currently, many managers base their telework policy on old rumors of lazy employees. They want to "keep an eye" on everyone, and any change in the old "push, push, push" management technique is dismissed without consideration.
Practice Makes Perfect
We from the "other" Washington embraced teleworking several years ago. Just last month, our regional office held a "practice" telework day to test our systems, and it worked beautifully. Come on, D.C., you usually are ahead of the regions. Time to catch up.
— Auburn, Wash.
John S. Monroe is the editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week.