Editor's Desk

Long-distance runaround

Linda Cureton, a pathfinder among her tech-savvy peers in the federal government, recently told a gathering of aging baby boomers (like me) to get on board with social media. “This technology will run you over if you don’t get out in front of it,” she said.

She was talking, on one level, about the new and increasingly commonplace tools used by Gen X and Millenials now entering the federal workforce. Blogs, wikis, social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and GovLoop — and this new thing called Twitter (come again?) — are now an integral part of young adults’ work habits and lifestyles. Yet these tools still encounter both stiff and passive resistance from supervisors and agency CXOs — no doubt for what they believe to be good reasons.

However, on quite another level, Cureton, chief information officer of NASA’s Goddard Flight Center, veteran blogger and now active Twitter user, was making a very nontechnical point. She was really pointing a finger at the prevailing attitudes of a passing generation.

(That would be us.) Her words spoke to the willingness — or lack thereof — to change our way of thinking about work, about workers, and about the organization of the workplace.

These attitudes were shaped and forged long before the advent of social media. A case in point is telecommuting, which has found increasing acceptance among federal agencies and private-sector businesses alike as a way to cut costs and retain valued employees. But even here, a stigma remains attached to telework in the still-prevailing view that work from remote locations is only for lower-rung employees whose jobs are fairly self-contained.

But what’s to stop the boss from phoning it in, too? As correspondent John Moore shows us in this week’s cover story, it’s certainly not the technology hurdle. John profiles four individuals in various supervisory and/or senior positions who have made the home office a natural extension of the downtown office — or cross-country office, as the case may be. The common thread is the way each person, and his or her respective office, has managed to overcome old notions of the workplace with good, compelling arguments for doing things remotely.

As in any transition period, it takes early adopters to show others the way. Senior Editor John Zyskowski takes a look at the handful of federal agencies that have begun experiments — and shown success — with collaborative wiki tools. They have taken the Wikipedia model — the idea that the wisdom of the crowd delivers more knowledge than any one individual – and applied it to agency deliberations.

Mark Drapeau, who launches a new Web 2.0 column in this issue, takes the idea one step further: Government agencies can actually enhance their brands by embracing social-media tools.

Last week, an early adopter took his place in the Oval Office. BlackBerry or no, you can bet that President Barack Obama is on the train, and a good part of the federal government will soon be riding with him.

About the Author

David Rapp is editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week and VP of content for 1105 Government Information Group.


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