The mobile revolution could transform the next-generation federal workforce

It was one of the most popular -- and endearing -- YouTube videos of 2011: a baby trying to use a magazine the same way as an iPad. But to Jeri Buchholz, assistant administrator for human capital management at NASA, the video captured a glimpse of the future workforce, a tech-savvy generation never bound by office space or rigid work schedules.

“Twenty years from today, that young woman is going to walk into our workforce, and we need to be ready for that,” she said. “’We need to be ready for a workforce that views this device not as a way of not having to talk to people but rather as way to stay connected, and is perfectly happy waking up at 4 a.m. to do work from her cozy bed, without getting out of that bed, and perfectly willing to completely blur the lines between work and their private lives.”

Speaking at the Sept. 25 Telework Town Hall meeting organized by Telework Exchange, Buchholz and her fellow panelists discussed how telework should be seen as strategic management tool in the government workspace, particularly in preparing for the next-generation public servants who have different needs and wants.

"This is the time to wake up and move into a 21st century and use telework as a tool to get things done,” said Justin Johnson, deputy chief of staff at the Office of Personnel Management. “We got plenty of room to grow by telework participation, but counting head shouldn’t be the measure of success.”

Once considered just an employee perk, telework has recently gained more traction as a strategic management tool. The perception that teleworkers are less productive because they’re offsite and not managed by traditional means is also slowly changing, making it  “somewhat ironic that telework is driving performance management, because obviously you can’t manage what you can’t see,” Johnson said.

For the purpose of recruiting and retaining the future government workforce, managers, supervisors and leaders alike need to embrace telework and maximize its use, said William Milton, chief human capital officer at the Agriculture Department’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration.

“Our workforce must be viewed as our most valuable resource, and telework is an opportunity for individuals to have work-life balance,” he said. “If we’re going to retain a workforce that’s going to be satisfied with their employer organization, and want to refer their friends to [that] agency, we must take whatever steps necessary to effectively utilize telework or we’re going to have a challenge going forward.”

Telework comprises a major part of NASA’s “Work from Anywhere” program. The initiative allows the space agency’s employees to use mobile devices to work remotely from literally anywhere in the world, whether it’s at home or in Paris, Buchholz said. 

"We’re pretty sure that if your job requires you to be sitting on a console at midnight so that a rocket-powered sky crane can lower rover onto Mars that you will be there regardless of your work schedule or what your telework agreement says, and we kind of take that approach across the board,” she said.

The "Magazine is an iPad that doesn't work" video:

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

Reader comments

Thu, Sep 27, 2012 Bill

@Sorry Bill... Yeah right. Sure you do. I have an employee who used to work for HP. They did the telework gig in a big way many years ago and everyone in her unit was a teleworker. All the mid-level managers did was check on their employees every few minutes to ensure accountability and to help them with projects. Huge waste of time, but they obviously felt workers needed to be guided and helped. Anyway, now that HP unit has done a 180 degree turn. NO ONE teleworks without specific job requirements and circumstances. As always, the govt is the last to the party and just about when industry has decided their profitability and competitiveness is being hurt by telework, they changed course. We will in the govt as well, but since the govt really isn't set up to be profitable like a company, they can probably get away with it for a time. I've been through many govt initiatives like this. This is another case of trying to fit a square peg through a round hole. In a few years it will revert to sanity. It always does. But, I'll say this, I used to be brilliant like you. Now I'm knowledgeable about how things and people work. You'll get there someday and then you'll be "living in the past" but likely correct by then. Enjoy your trip through life. Hope not many competing ideas disturb your journey. BTW, last time I heard a comment like yours that you're "making mid-level managers obsolete" was during the Total Quality Management initiative in the early 90's. Who needed managers? Listen to your customers and tear down the barriers between you and your customers (i.e. managers were the barrier). That lasted about three years. Hopefully you will promote directly from worker to upper manager since mid-level will be obsolete. You can get your training to be an upper level manager online right in your home without ever really having to deal with people and all their weaknesses that mid-level managers help them through!! Teleworkers uber alles!!

Wed, Sep 26, 2012

Sorry, Bill, but you sir are living in the past. Just because you don't have the self-discipline and drive to accomplish your work without incorporating age old, mundane traditions i.e. suiting up and slogging through traffic in your polluting metal box, clocking in, locking yourself in your cubicle, etc. etc. doesn't mean there aren't a growing number of us who are proving that drive and inner-directed motivation get the job done! From anywhere! Sorry mid-level managers, we're making you obsolete. And as far as accountability is concerned, I'm fully prepared to face the axe if the consensus finds that my productivity is not lending itself to enough profitability for my company. This threat keeps me moving, so I get going to work, everyday, in my own home.

Wed, Sep 26, 2012 Lou DoD

Telework is becoming quite the deal at my agency, I get so much more done on my one day off each week than I do at the office. I know there's studies out there that show teleworkers actually spending more time on the job and getting things done than those tied to a desk. May of the "beltway bandits" in the tech fields work virtually and are scattered across the globe, the most recent one I worked with accomplished so much more than any that relied on us providing them workspace and having them come in every day!

Wed, Sep 26, 2012 Bill

A waste of money. Many people are very close to work and the discipline of coming into work everyday is instrumantal in being productive and value added. Telework should only be for a few very specific circumstances (like long commutes, really bad weather,having a job where interaction with people is not necessary, etc.). If technology ever gets to the Star Trek ideal of holographic capability where everyone appears to be together, telework might someday be worth it, but with today's technology it is basically a productivity sink with no accountability. Plus carrying home the stress of work, is probably a bad idea for society in the long run. But, it is indeed a great way to successfully goof off and get paid!! But our bone headed managers will probably see this only as a way to turn off the a/c to save money and ignore the damage to productivity.

Wed, Sep 26, 2012

“Twenty years from today," you need to wake up and watch the news. The terror throught the world is managed today using various arrays of mobile devices. Those people are not setting at a desk in a New York or Washington DC ivory tower. They are controlling the real world in real time from real places!

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