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When telework fails

Despite the cure-all telework has been touted as, it is not much use in some emergencies, including the most recent storm-induced power outage that affected more than a million homes in the Washington area.

While some feds had the option to take unscheduled telework, many were unable to do any work at home and instead headed to the office. “Of course telework isn't a very effective option when you have no power (and your office, which does, looks like the best option for keeping cool),” one reader commented.

Another reader said while telework was useful in the other weather emergencies such as blizzards, it wasn't helpful this time.

“I personally was very happy to come to my air-conditioned office on Monday since my home was still without electricity and was 88 degrees inside!” that reader said.

If the power outage wasn’t reason enough not to work from home, another reader lamented the lack of adequate continuity-of-operations planning: “Ha! Like I'm gonna drag a 10+ pound boat anchor masquerading as a government-issued laptop home every single night on the off chance of a disaster requiring me to telework. COOP at my agency is a joke. If you really want me to be able to telework, secure your data, and provide me with VPN access from the personal device(s) of my choice.”

Some readers pointed out that sometimes telework just isn’t productive, especially when you're employer is the Defense Department or the intelligence community. “As long as we cannot access government systems from home, it's just not realistic," wrote one reader. "And, frankly, from a cybersecurity standpoint, it's completely unwise to allow that type of connectivity outside the four walls of an agency.”

Reader Scott gave some basic tips on how to proceed if you can’t telework from home due to a power outage"

First: Proceed to the physical building to do your job. If that building doesn't have power (call or text first), then go to a remote telework center if your organization has one.

Second: If there is none, try a friend’s house, local coffee shop, restaurant, bookstore or any other nearby location with free wi-fi and power, he suggested.

And finally, “if everyone is completely without power, then perhaps you might actually have to suck it up and take the unscheduled leave,” Scott wrote. “This process is not that difficult, and I don't see why it's so hard for people to grasp the concept of being able to do your job (or at least a good portion of it) from any location.”

It may not be difficult in theory but a challenge in reality, commented another reader. 

“It's remarkable how hard it is to make this work in our government organizations: 300,000+ employee commercial organizations like HP have no trouble making employees productive at home, on the road, etc.,” commented Dan Barahona. ”We should expect no less from our government agencies. It's one more argument to make mobility/[bring your own device] a standard operating practice."

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Jul 09, 2012 at 12:19 PM

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Reader comments

Tue, Jul 10, 2012

In response to "Scott" -- given the lack of respect for government work and workers, and no support for Federal pay and benefits in Congress and by this administration, the incentive is pretty weak for "going the extra mile" to get some work done instead of taking care of home and family in an emergency situation. Sorry, unscheduled leave is a no-brainer if the workplace isn't open.

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