Experts: Managers can impede telework, COOP

Managers’ misunderstandings and unwillingness to change are two main hindrances to federal agencies implementing telework and continuity-of-operations plans, experts said today.

“Managers love to hate these programs,” said Wendell Joice, governmentwide telework team leader at the General Services Administration, which shares responsibility with the Office of Personnel Management for implementing telework.

Joice and other experts spoke at a meeting about federal and private-sector COOP planning for mobile workforces. RSA Security, iPass -- which specializes in secure mobile computing -- and Input sponsored the talk.

Telework and COOP are two underperforming government programs, Joice said. In some cases, ongoing management resistance to telework is limiting COOP preparedness, he added.

Less than half of all federal agencies train their managers in telework, said Robert Zitz, special assistant to the undersecretary of preparedness at the Homeland Security Department. “That’s got to change,” he said.

A big challenge to enacting COOP through telework is justifying the cost to management, Joice said, adding that COOP is like insurance: It’s hard for organizations to devote resources toward events that may not happen.

Managers who say they are concerned about their workers’ productivity while teleworking more often care about how changes might negatively affect them personally, said Jack Penkoske, director of manpower, personnel and security at the Defense Information Security Agency.

A good solution to this problem is changing performance management systems to concentrate on results, Penkoske said.

Telework in some ways suffers from an image problem of employees working at home in their pajamas or naked, said Kenneth Bob, vice president for strategic alliances at iPass.

Telework and COOP are not that different because both need top management to lead efforts to implement them, Joice said. “We’re constantly hampered by having to beg and plead.”

COOP and pandemic planning are different but related, Joice added. COOP is short-term and focuses on a small portion of the workforce. Pandemic planning is long term and involves many workers in essentially an extremely large COOP exercise, he said.

Federal agencies may look at telework programs as a dress rehearsal for the real thing, Bob said.

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