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Exposed: The dark side of telework

Despite the benefits telework promises – from slashing costs to ramping up productivity – many are cynical about this increasingly common way of working, saying managers are turning a blind eye to those who violate the new privileges and policies. Are federal agencies oblivious to the pitfalls of this new way of working? FCW readers seem to think so.

One frustrated reader emailed me to share what goes on in her government agency, saying how employees claim to telework when they are in fact doing other things. She listed many examples of blatant abuse, including:

*Employees who listed telework on their timesheet but were seen out shopping.

*One worker didn’t have enough sick leave, so managers rigged up medical telework saying he/she was contagious. When his/her birthday fell on medical telework days, the employee came into the office to celebrate.

*Another employee who lives out of state claims to be teleworking when he/she in fact is on vacation.

* One employee stayed home “teleworking” because he/she did not want to use personal leave but did not want to come in to work either.

*Another worker said she was teleworking but was in fact home awaiting deliveries of appliances. She told other employees who needed some information from her that they would have to wait until she returned to the office – days later.

“I think telework can be a good thing, but it is being abused here,” said the reader who contacted me. “I don't know whom to talk to because these uses are approved by our senior managers and people are stealing from the government when they use telework instead of leave. I am a taxpayer as well as government employee.”

“I am not a nut case,” she continued, “I don't go looking for things to dig at -- here, these things are so out in the open and so dishearteningly obvious.”

She is far from alone in her criticism. Other readers have previously shared their gripes with telework, citing inept managers as one of the major challenges when it comes to telework.  In commenting on the article "Workplace flexibility could expand dramatically soon," a reader called Coloradoite said telework is about trust, which he/she said is something many managers seem to lack.

“It's currently hard to even get permission to telework here as upper management doesn't trust that people will be working,” Coloradoite said. "’If I can't see you, you won't be working’" seems to be the mantra. This may happen in D.C., but it will NEVER happen here in Denver unless it’s FORCED upon the management staff. There will be some reason to deny it.”

A reader who chimed in on the post "How to turn telework naysayers around" agreed that the problem is the lack of trust managers have and offered insight on where that distrust comes from: 

"The basic problem is that managers don't trust people to work out of their sight," the reader said. "That, in turn, stems from the managers not being able to break down the work into pieces with deadlines and allocating the pieces to their people while holding them accountable for the deadline. What many managers think is that ALL time should be used for the managers tasks -- which is erroneous."

However, employees should not always blame management when telework fails, another reader said.

“Telework exposes management incompetency since we all know a lot of managers became managers by putting in the time, not by being innovative or creative leaders or even being competent or good at what they do," said the reader who commented on "Ineligible to telework? Join the club." "That is your block to making telework work.”

Are federal agencies really ready to take the leap to an expanded virtual workforce? Are government managers turning a blind eye to the abuse of telework privileges? Or are they simply oblivious? What are some of your horror stories on telework?

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Nov 09, 2011 at 12:19 PM

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Reader comments

Sat, Dec 17, 2011 Cecilia DC Metro Area

Telework has been a good thing for me. I save a lot of travel expenses,where and tear on my nerves,bad energies from co-workers, gas, insurance fee's and exposure to all kind of public viruses and still get the work done. My philosophy is that if the employee works successfully in the office, they can work from anywhere. We turn in tele-work reports for each day worked. Management checkes them all the time. There are controls. To be honest I get more work done at home then the office, because I have less interuptions.

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 MD

I telework two days per week and it saves me money and allows me to have more time with my family (not commuting back and forth to work). Telework is good for some, but not others. It is a priviledge once the trust and respect is earned from your management. As long as you keep doing your work and meeting your deliverables, there should not be an issue.

Wed, Nov 30, 2011

Our agency is allowed three telework days per week up to manager’s descretion. However, our office only recently implemented a very restrictive telework program – one day per week - with the understanding that telework is a privilege. Our management has taken the position that telework only benefits the employee, not the office. One manager even stated in front of fellow employees that he/she does not trust his/her employees to work at the office, much less work at home. Other federal agencies (i.e. GSA) are much more progressive and see telework for what it truly is – a method to increase productivity while decreasing office space requirements. As the younger, more technologically attuned, workforce moves up into management positions, I’m sure telework, cloud computing, etc., will become the normal work environment.

Tue, Nov 29, 2011 Frustrated Fed Employee VA

I telework full time for one year and half taking care of family member. I was too busy to be lazy. I have alot of work and reports which are due daily at certain times. Manager can tell I worked via emails and software that tracks employee productivity. After my surgery, doctor recommended telework due to health issue. Manager turned down. I decided to retire on disability. It is waste of taxpayer money to pay social security taxes to pay employee like myself who can work via telework.

Tue, Nov 22, 2011

I have tried to get on Telework cause I am an engineer and can not focus in this loud office. Too many personal conversations going on to concentrate. Management hates telework. Oddly enough, I travel too plants alot and am allowed to work in the motel, without claiming telework. I was denied telework cause management don't know if I am working. My question is, how do they know I am working now? I have worked at home for my own company for several years before coming back to the government and it worked great - way more productive. It is just frustrating to know managers don't really care and most are not manager material - get their position by default not my ability! I think I am leaving the government again cause the high school antics are getting old!

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