How to unlock the potential of a mobile federal workforce

Alan Balutis is senior director and distinguished fellow at Cisco Systems’  Internet Business Solutions Group. This article is drawn from a longer white paper co-authored with Albert Cho. The full paper is available at

The Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 has generated tremendous momentum for efforts to increase workforce mobility options for federal employees. The act paves the way for the federal government to unlock significant benefits, including greater productivity, resilience, environmental sustainability and employee inclusion. Moreover, it creates accountability for achieving those objectives in the form of telework managing officers (TMOs), senior officials responsible for telework policy development and implementation.

Realizing the act’s objectives will require a significant departure from current practice. To date, agencies have focused on increasing telework participation rates through advertising, employee training and resolving technological barriers. Meaningful progress toward the act’s other goals — including emergency readiness, energy use, recruitment, retention, performance and productivity — will require developing integrated mobility strategies linked to agency business objectives.

As the first TMOs assume their roles, they have a unique opportunity to use workforce mobility — which includes telework and a broader range of tools and systems to enable productivity anywhere, anytime and on any device — as a catalyst to create a more flexible, productive and inspiring federal workplace.

A brief look at several business objectives highlights the importance of integrated planning.

  • Enhanced productivity, satisfaction and retention. Perhaps the most obvious rationale for an aggressive telework strategy is the opportunity to increase employee productivity, happiness and retention. Office of Personnel Management findings show that teleworking employees have a better understanding of work expectations and higher job satisfaction than respondents not able to telework. Cisco Systems’ research indicates that for every 60 minutes employees save on commuting, they work an extra 40 minutes.
  • Inclusion and diversity. Cisco’s research has also established that mobility tools can help older employees stay engaged — an important consideration given that almost 25 percent of the federal workforce is at or near retirement age. Flexibility is also important for other groups, including people with disabilities and working parents.
  • Continuity of operations. Federal agencies recognize the importance of incorporating mobility into COOP planning. However, a mobility strategy for COOP will look very different from a traditional telework plan and will require identifying critical functions, training select employees, running scenario exercises and investing in resilient infrastructure, such as virtualized desktop PCs that can run securely on any device to ensure continuity in crisis situations.
  • Sustainable energy use. Telework can help reduce energy consumption in at least two ways: by reducing the amount of transportation required and by decreasing office space and utility requirements. A mobility strategy that increases the frequency and regularity of telework can enable office reconfigurations to decrease the amount of square footage per employee and, in turn, reduce real estate costs, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

Those examples demonstrate the degree to which complementary but separate policy objectives generate different requirements that might not be addressed by a focus on increasing casual telework participation rates. A policy of encouraging telework across agencies is a “no regrets” move, but it is insufficient to achieve significant progress toward the business objectives outlined in the Telework Enhancement Act. To unlock the true benefits of workforce mobility, TMOs and agency leaders must embed mobility within the broader context of strategic planning.

The Telework Enhancement Act provides the federal government with an exciting opportunity to reshape the workplace. Going beyond mere compliance can enable the government to make real progress toward its business objectives and become more productive, inclusive, resilient and sustainable.

About the Author

Alan P. Balutis is senior director and distinguished fellow at Cisco Systems.

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

Wed, Jul 6, 2011

unfortunately 80% of us will never be able to telecommute unless there's a major shift in attitude from the top.

Tue, Jun 14, 2011 SOTE Contractor Federal Agency

The Feds will enjoy the increased productivity of having their contractors work nights, weekends and holidays in addition to the regular office hours. The Feds will be able to satisfy their bosses and will be retained even when those burned out contractors get thrown away.

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