Reluctant managers resist telework

Telework proponents urge better training programs and funding

To meet ambitious federal goals for teleworking, supervisors must alter their management styles and agencies must solve security problems, telework proponents agree.

Consensus is growing among lawmakers and agency executives on the benefits of telework, but security concerns persist, and it is difficult to win over reluctant managers who are used to seeing their employees each morning at the office. And because each agency is in charge of its own training program and telework security policy, approaches vary widely.

“We need to train the managers because the thing about telework is there [must be] a covenant of trust between a manager and an employee,” said Lurita Doan, administrator of the General Services Administration. “We have to encourage the managers to be confident that the covenant of trust is going to be maintained,” said Doan, who spoke at a recent conference on federal telework hosted by the Telework Exchange, a for-profit telework advocacy group.

Doan said GSA’s goal is to have 20 percent of its workforce teleworking at least once a week by the end of 2008, 40 percent by the end of 2009 and half of its workforce teleworking in 2010. About 90 percent of GSA employees are eligible to telework, agency officials said.

GSA isn’t alone in encouraging more employees to telework and singling out managers as essential to successful telework programs. But persuading managers that employees are as productive when they work at home as when they are down the hall has proved challenging.
“It’s easy to see a person and say he’s working really hard — he clocks in and clocks out, he puts in long hours, but that’s not results-oriented,” said Gene Stefanucci, principal director of Global Information Grid combat support at the Defense Information Systems Agency, which has an expanding telework program. “We found that basically midline managers were measuring how hard people worked and not the results they were producing.”

However, performance-based management approaches are gaining momentum, and management cultures are changing at DISA and other agencies, federal telework experts say. The Federal Managers Association (FMA), a professional organization representing about 200,000 managers, supervisors and executives, expressed its support for telework at the conference.

Managers increasingly recognize the benefits of telework for continuity of operations (COOP) and for recruiting and retaining employees.

“Telework will prove itself to be a tool that will revolutionize the way we are addressing needs,” said Michael O’Leary, a program manager at the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing, who represented FMA at the conference. “The managers are moving quickly to get in front of it.”

But even with more managers onboard, agency executives still must solve the security problems associated with letting employees work away from the office at a time when funds for security programs are limited.

Depending on their needs, agencies protect their networks through virtual private networks, firewalls, encryption and monitoring systems. However, when employees gain access to the network from computers not physically located in the agency office, the challenge of protecting sensitive data becomes more complex.

Information security officers face the challenge of securing end points such as home PCs or personal digital assistants. Securing the network is more difficult when employees who are not registered in an official telework program try to work from home or when workers use PCs or private PDAs to telecommute.

“My very strong recommendation is not to allow people to use home computers to telecommute unless you don’t care about the security of the information they’re working with,” said Dennis Heretick, the Justice Department’s chief information security officer, who spoke at the conference.

Treasury’s Tax Administration Department has a telework program that relies on government-issued equipment and prohibits employees from storing any sensitive or personally identifiable information on those machines.

Federal managers might welcome an opportunity to equip all potential teleworkers with new laptop PCs, but most agency telework budgets have not risen at the same rate as the pressure to expand agency telecommuting programs, experts say.

Thus, many agencies, such as the International Trade Commission, where last year about 75 percent of employees worked remotely at least one day per month, use Citrix Systems’ remote access software to provide security for employees using their own or government-issued computers.

“Our go-forward strategy is to make sure that the government understands from nongovernment-furnished equipment they can implement an extremely secure remote access policy,” said Tom Simmons, area vice president at Citrix Systems Government Systems.
Additional security tools allow agencies to restrict access by certain remote computers and to monitor users’ computer activity on the network.

One mistake at the end point of a network, such as a personally owned computer, can compromise large amounts of agency data, experts warn. Also, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and agencies need to determine their security needs when designing their programs, security experts say.

“The real fact of the matter is that most employees just want access to the data that they need to do their jobs, so it’s our responsibility as a community to get out of our silos and help those employees get access but get it in a secure way,” Heretick said. “Our employees are worth it.”

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.


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