GSA cakewalking to its telework goal

Rules alter IT decisions

Telework is becoming a significant factor in information technology spending decisions by federal agencies, according to a new study.

In a survey of 127 IT managers from 70 agencies, conducted by the Telework Exchange, 52 percent of respondents reported that they consider telework requirements when they make IT infrastructure decisions. An additional 31 percent said they sometimes take telework needs into account when making IT investment decisions.

The survey also found that 68 percent expected telework spending to increase in the next two years.

“The telework decision and the IT spending decision are being merged and paired together and being advanced at the same time in agency budgets,” said General Services Administration Administrator Lurita Doan, commenting on the study. “I think this represents a sea change for the way government agencies look at both IT purchases and the way they look at telework.”

“I also think it is the only way you can truly institutionalize telework,” she added. “The fact of the matter is money talks. If you haven’t put the money there to support that endeavor, it’s not going to go anywhere.”

— Richard W. Walker

Lurita Doan, head of the General Services Administration, caused a stir eight months ago when she stood before a large audience in Washington and boldly promised that 50 percent of eligible employees at GSA would be teleworking by the end of fiscal 2010.

The claim seemed especially bold given that only about 4 percent of government employees who are eligible to telework do so.

But Doan hasn’t backed down. She insisted last week that the agency is on track to fulfill the prediction. Speaking at the Spring 2008 Telework Exchange Town Meeting, Doan said GSA is “absolutely going to make it, and we’re going to make it in spades.”

She said that 18 percent of eligible GSA employees are now teleworking at least one day a week, up from about 10 percent in September 2007. She expects to meet the next benchmark — 20 percent by the end of 2008 — by the end of May, eight months ahead of schedule.

“We’re well on our way to hitting our goal of 40 percent by the end of calendar year 2009,” Doan said. In light of the rapid advance, GSA’s eventual goal of 50 percent by 2010 is going to be “an absolute cakewalk.”

The key to that success is leadership commitment to a clearly stated goal, said William Kelly, coordinator of GSA’s telework initiative.

In addition, GSA has made strides in creating the culture change critical to integrating telework into the organization, Kelly said.

“Making teleworking normal business practice requires a shift in culture — how we view the nature of work,” he said.  “I believe if we proceed at a measured pace, building on our successes, we will easily achieve that level and probably go even higher. If our pace of change exceeds our ability to manage that change, only then will we experience problems.”

Kelly identified four ingredients necessary to building a progressive telework
program:


  • Support from the top. Because of the inherent cultural resistance to telework, leadership has to be willing to devote the energies necessary to turn the ship.

  • Trust. An intrinsic value in a telework program has to be mutual trust between supervisors and employees who have a telework arrangement.

  • Focus on results. Success comes fromfocusing on results, or outcomes, rather than on more traditional forms of management.  

  • Staying connected. Technology has made it possible for teams to work effectively from dispersed locations, provided they have essential social and organizational connectivity.


Doan said GSA’s telework goals are about more than percentages. “We’re not content to just hit the numbers,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is also ensure that we put the policies and procedures in place that make telework sustainable — not just for one year, not just through 2010, but for us to build on it and continue to grow the telework concept because it just makes good sense for government.”

With agencies like GSA leading the way, the federal government has an opportunity to take the lead in promoting telework, Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) said at the telework meeting.

“With plenty of encouragement and congressional oversight, the federal government can set the example for teleworking,” he said. “I’m one of those individuals who believes that you can’t lead where you don’t go, and you can’t teach what you don’t know.”

Davis, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s federal workforce subcommittee, and Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), who also spoke at the meeting, are co-sponsors of the Telework Improvement Act of 2007, which would let more federal employees participate in telework programs.

The bill also would require agencies to incorporate telework into their continuity-of-operations plans.
“There are agencies in the federal government that are already leading the way, and we hope this legislation will help support their efforts,” Sarbanes said.

The bill has been approved by the subcommittee and full committee and is expected to move to the House floor for consideration in the coming months, Davis said.

Sarbanes said the benefits of teleworking “are compelling to those of us in Congress who want to see this move forward.”

Some of those benefits include a better quality of life with flexible work arrangements for employees; reduced commuting expenses for workers, particularly as gas soars toward $4 per gallon; and a decrease in the federal government’s carbon footprint, he said.

Telework also offers agencies a tremendous recruiting tool and will make the government more competitive in the marketplace, he added. 

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