Will telework gain traction after record snowfalls?

Readers favor the idea of more telework, but worry whether it can catch on

The back-to-back heavy snows of the past week should put a greater commitment to telework on the government’s front burner, to judge from the comments posted to our coverage. However, as much as federal employees favor the idea, many seem to fear that entrenched opposition will cause any push toward telework to fade as soon as the piles of snow melt.

“Wow, I find it amazing that now after a major incident we can ‘talk’ about it,” wrote Mark Arnold in Maryland. “We've been talking about it for years, with the old farts and dinosaurs fighting against ‘virtual teams’ because they are control freaks. We need to move forward with action not talk, because at least 50 percent of the federal government could have done something during the snow storm.”

“Places like [The Homeland Security Department and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services] say they have telework on the books, but in all reality they don't promote it or allow employees to use it,” wrote Chuck in Rockville, Md. “I find it a battle that the employee will never win because the upper management have control issues.”

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How valid is might upper management’s resistance to telework? Several feds talked about the increased productivity of working from home.

Kathy of the Housing and Urban Development Department wrote in to say: “I have never teleworked before but I am loving it, as my supervisor gave me a temporary OK [to] do it today (2/12/2010). I have remote access to my agency and all of its programs, applications -- thus allowing me to operate just as if I was actually at work. Able to get a bit more done without constant ringing of phones.”

A reader in Columbus, Ohio, also touted telework’s productivity: “I also usually work more hours than given credit for during telework. It is a setting that is more relaxing and if I am doing something, I want to complete it. It is my responsibility to manage my desk. We need to get rid of this antiquated mind set that if the supervisor cannot see the employee they are not working. Manage the work and flow of work not the fact that you can see the employee.”

“If the government really treated us like salaried professionals, most employees would respond as salaried professionals and contribute work from home on snow days,” wrote another reader. “However, my experience in my agency is that if an employee needs to leave early to pick up a sick child from school or if they have a sick child at home, telework is forbidden; the employee is forced to take leave. The government cannot demand that employees act like salaried professionals when it is to the government's advantage and then treat people like low skilled hourly workers if it is to the employees' advantage. It needs to be a two-way street, but it is not in most agencies.”

“The absence of industrial-quality telework is an indictment of the SES [Senior Executive Service] system,” wrote a reader in Scaggsville, Md. “Does anyone think that GS 16s, 17s or 18s would do as poorly with telework as SESers?”

On the other hand, at least one reader questioned the value of the honor system.

“Many continued to work? That's a hoot,” wrote one. “My counterparts at Fort Monmouth [N.J.] largely disappeared. No e-mail, no phone calls. They had no intention of working out of the office, and they didn't. This turned into a 6-day weekend for them with the holiday on Monday.”

The shutdown in the Washington area also had an impact elsewhere. “I am on the West Coast but work closely with folks who work in D.C.,” wrote one reader. “All meetings that were scheduled this week were cancelled -- even simple conference calls between 2-3 people. That was very frustrating for us because we know everyone involved has been issued a blackberry and could have easily participated on a call. We have the technology available to us to use and things should not come to a screeching halt when it snows in D.C.”

Which leads, perhaps, to another question: Do all those employees need to be near the nation’s capital?

“They need to reduce the numbers of federal workers and contractors in the DC area,” wrote a reader. “Many of the worker-bee level shops could easily be moved to other cities with lower housing and living costs, where people wouldn't have long commutes even in good weather. And the taxpayers would not have to pay for the high-cost differential and grade inflation needed to get people to work in D.C.”

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.


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