Inside GSA’s telework program

William Kelly outlines a three-part strategy for hitting GSA’s 50 percent teleworking goal

When Lurita Doan left the General Services Administration last month, the agency lost its most visible champion of telework. As administrator, Doan had set an ambitious goal for GSA’s program: 50 percent of eligible employees would be teleworking by the end of 2010.

About 18 percent of eligible employees currently telework, putting GSA in reach of its interim goal of having 20 percent of eligible employees teleworking by the end of this year.

Doan’s departure will not delay GSA’s plans to forge ahead with its telework objectives, said William Kelly, senior coordinator of GSA’s telework initiative and previously director of human resources services in the agency’s Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer.

FCW: How has GSA been able to make such rapid progress toward its telework milestones?
KELLY: We have worked hard over several years to create a performance-based culture across GSA. We also have a sufficient budget devoted to improving our [information technology] infrastructure. Those factors, coupled with leadership commitment to a clearly stated organizational goal, made the increased numbers of teleworkers attainable.  

FCW: What are the biggest challenges you face as you try to reach the 50 percent goal in the next two years?
KELLY: The biggest challenge for any organization to implement telework at the level that we are planning for in GSA is changing the corporate culture. Managers and employees need to improve the level of communications and strengthen trust between each other. Managers need to learn new skills in order to understand and provide proper management to remote workers. Managing a virtual or remote workforce requires a leap of faith for some managers and often the adoption of a different management style. We need to ensure that our managers are prepared to manage in this new environment.

The other side of this is that our employees need to get the proper training to allow them to be as productive as possible while working remotely. This training obviously involves the [information technology] skills to handle the technology components of remote access but also training in things such as distance learning and understanding how to be a transparent teleworker — someone whom staff, management and customers are comfortable dealing with, regardless of where that person is geographically seated.

There is no doubt we will have to make additional IT investments. We must also continue to change our business processes to allow expanded remote access to information. For the record, we are targeted to meet the 50 percent mark in 32 months — the end of calendar year 2010. That is ample time for us to accommodate the needed changes.

Of note, we are not trying to have employees work at alternate locations or be mobile for the entire workweek. Rather, we are looking for most to telework once or twice a week.

FCW: How much of a factor is resistance from employees who don’t want to telework? Is resistance from managers a hurdle?
KELLY: Telework is currently not mandatory for employees. Surprisingly, we have a small number of employees who expressed reservations over the notion of having to telework for reasons such as isolation, lack of separate spheres between home and work, distractions from family, less awareness of changes in their organization, and the fear of being undermanaged — out of sight, out of mind. We plan to survey our workforce and allow employees to declare their intent.

Historical evidence points to resistance from managers as a recurring obstacle to implementing robust telework programs. Our experience is no different. GSA managers are very conscientious and results-oriented, and they hav e a strong entrepreneurial spirit. We are confident that the vast majority of them, after experiencing how telework pays off, will learn to embrace telework as a needed business practice.

FCW: What are the criteria for classifying a position as eligible for telework?  
KELLY: Telework-eligible positions typically include at least one day of work per workweek — or two days per pay period if approved for variable telework — that can be routinely performed at an alternative worksite.

FCW: How many teleworkers work from GSA telework centers versus work from home?
KELLY: GSA-sponsored telework centers currently exist only in the Washington, D.C., area. The vast majority of GSA employees are assigned elsewhere across the country. As a result of our organization’s geographical distribution, only a small percentage of employees use telework centers — approximately 3 percent to 4 percent.

FCW: Aside from laptop PCs, are teleworkers provided with any other equipment for home offices?
KELLY: As a default, the answer is no. Our default position is to ensure that, at a minimum, every teleworker has a GSA-issued laptop as their one and only workstation. For the home office, this would also include a docking station, flat-screen monitor, keyboard and mouse, and access to shared network printers. When they telework, they will simply undock that laptop and travel.  

We have decided as an agency not to fund Internet service for teleworkers. Other items — including Internet service, additional peripheral equipment, cell phones, BlackBerrys and other equipment — can be made available after submission of an exception or waiver form with a bona fide business case.

FCW: What are the training and security requirements for teleworkers?
KELLY: Telework training is available and encouraged for employees and management. Training specific to telework is currently not required before an employee begins to telework. To facilitate the change-management process, we are developing GSA training that will be mandatory for telework in the future.

The training requirements we have defined for both managers and employees are significant and varied. They include everything from IT how-to training, IT security training, policy training and training to help employees adjust to the new virtual culture. From the new employee’s orientation training to regular refresher training for current teleworkers, experience has told us that we can’t train our employees too much on how to be effective teleworkers.

Security requirements are mostly the same for teleworkers as they are for other employees, except for those additional rules pertaining to remote access. Security is something GSA as an agency takes very seriously. Employees are required to complete a technology implementation plan as a precondition of being authorized to telework. This includes a review of IT security requirements. 


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