GSA tries sweetening telework with new federal regulations

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In new telework guidelines issued March 2, the General Services Administration clarified security requirements for teleworkers and reduced agencies’ equipment burdens for off-site workers.

According to the new guidelines, not all teleworkers require access to their agencies’ centralized information systems. Some employees can work effectively having only e-mail and telephone contact with their offices.

“A user who teleworks one or two days per week, and whose job consists largely of writing and document preparation, may never need to log in to agency systems from an alternative worksite,” the guidelines state.

However, teleworkers who need access to IT systems should use a virtual private network to ensure that their off-site computer is as secure as computers in the office, according to the guidelines. VPNs let teleworkers access their schedules, budget analyses and other complex applications from off-site locations, but they come at a high cost and do not necessarily protect users from viruses and e-mail worms.

GSA’s new guidelines advise agencies to update their help-desk support for teleworkers. Help-desk employees should have the skills and resources needed for resolving telework issues, such as knowing how to run remote diagnostics, said Theresa Noll, senior telework program analyst at GSA’s Office of Governmentwide Policy.

“Help desks are sometimes not robust in those areas,” Noll said. “The desks need someone experienced in troubleshooting specific issues for teleworkers.”

GSA’s guidelines also state that agencies should provide routine system maintenance by transmitting software and system upgrades to alternative worksites, instead of requiring teleworkers to bring their computers to their federal workplaces.

Mid-level managers continue to resist the federal government’s efforts to expand teleworking because they don’t understand how it can be successful, say GSA officials who are trying to promote telework.

Managers often lack experience and hands-on knowledge of telework, Noll said. “They come from a traditional school and need to see people in the office to be able to tell if people are doing work or not.”

GSA wants to change those attitudes. Through a new initiative, federal managers, supervisors and senior executives can sample the telework experience by using GSA’s telework centers at no cost to their agencies through Sept. 30.

GSA has received nearly a dozen inquiries about the initiative, and three managers have signed up to offer telework. Although that response might seem lackluster, Noll interpreted the numbers as a positive sign.

Chuck Wilsker, president and chief executive officer of the Telework Coalition, said the initiative eliminates one excuse for not teleworking.

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