December snowstorm highlighted policy disconnect

FCW readers say agencies have no excuse for not making it easier for employees to work from home

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.
Anonymous

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.
Anonymous

Telework Espionage
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.
Anonymous

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.

About the Author

John Monroe is Senior Events Editor for the 1105 Public Sector Media Group, where he is responsible for overseeing the development of content for print and online content, as well as events. John has more than 20 years of experience covering the information technology field. Most recently he served as Editor-in-Chief of Federal Computer Week. Previously, he served as editor of three sister publications: civic.com, which covered the state and local government IT market, Government Health IT, and Defense Systems.

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Reader comments

Thu, Feb 11, 2010

Why do you keep posting comments on here that have all Federal employees looking like befuddled idiots? Look at the Patent & Trademark office who has been working at 85% productivity in the storm due to extensive use of telework. Or DISA, exercising their telework options. My co-workers and I have all been teleworking this week rather than sitting around "scratching our heads". There's work to be done. The vast majority of us civil servants understand that - and are figuring it out as we go. And many of us are WORKING.

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