Has GSA cracked the code for telework success?
The combination of vigilant managers and the right technology is key to prevent abuse of telework privileges, and one agency in particular has shown how a few measures could help ensure the success of a virtual worker program in the federal government.
Telework has recently become a hot topic, with two sides squaring off over the merits and risks of a virtual workforce. Some of the most common arguments have focused on employees who abuse telework policies, and managers who do very little to curb those kinds of misconduct.
However, telework doesn’t create management issues, it reveals them, said Sharon Wall, head of the Telework Program Management Office at the General Services Administration. “There is a higher degree of accountability for virtual workers because we at GSA focus on measuring results and outcome and deliverables.”
GSA began a new initiative on Oct. 31 to make telework available for most employees, hoping to serve as a guide to other departments that are considering adopting telework. And for GSA, individual and agencywide accountability has become ever so important. Its policy, although “very forward leaning and flexible,” according to Wall, warns that any degradation in personal or organizational performance will result in the termination of telework agreement of the individual.
Collaborative tools and technologies play a key part in ensuring that virtual workers do their job efficiency, as well as they can communicate in real time with their managers. For example, email has been moved to the cloud, and employees are expected to use instant messaging to not only send and receive messages but to indicate via their status update whether they are available, on a call or otherwise engaged and cannot immediately answer.
Employees are required to do mandatory training that promotes better understanding of telework and policies. An online dashboard furthers the transparency of the agency’s virtual workforce by displaying, for example, how many GS-13s have completed the training on managing the virtual workforce, or how many employees have taken the module on mobility training, Wall said.
The system also detects managers who are less supportive of mobility. A time-keeping system keeps track of how many actual telework hours are worked, a technology that Wall said allows GSA to “drill down to the organizational level.”
“I have canceled telework for people whose performance wasn’t at a level that I deemed to be acceptable,” she said. “Managers have to manage! As managers, we need to ensure that our employees are being productive and making contributions to the organization.”
The agency has also kept the door ajar for feedback from employees. For example, employees who felt their managers were not supporting telework have been able to share their frustrations in blogs or forums on GSA’s intranet. Wall’s New England office, which has had a telework program in place for the past 11 years, also has pooled the input of GSA offices in other states to get clued in on their best practices of telework programs.
With the winter season fast approaching, Wall said telework will allow government operations to run smoothly in the event of another Snowmageddon, or anything else that would render a physical space unavailable.
“Taxpayers expect a government that works, and GSA is leading the way to assist other agencies to have a robust program, such as ours, so that we are available with supporting our [Continuity of Operations Plan] responsibilities," Wall said. "Work is what you do, not where you are.”