Telework puts managers in tight spot, officials say

Most federal work doesn’t lend itself to measuring direct output from an employee, which makes it hard to directly measure performance.

In a recent discussion, senior department officials pinned the success of the telework initiative on trust.

Jeffrey Neal, the chief human capital officer (CHCO) at the Homeland Security Department, said managers have to believe their employees are working. And managers have to ask themselves, “Do you trust that your employees are really working?”

Managers have the problem with assuming employees who are in the office are working while those out of the office are blowing off work, said Janie Payne, the Housing and Urban Development Department’s CHCO.


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That assumption is a hindrance to the telework program, and it's a pervasive belief, she said.

A few poor-performing employees who have abused the privilege of telework ruin it for the employee who would do best at home, Neal said.

Many people are trustworthy, and those people likely would work longer hours if they’re at home.

“They don’t disconnect from work,” Neal said, pulling out his BlackBerry. He has to tell workers to stop working and go to bed.

Still, managers are in a tough position because federal work doesn’t lend itself to measuring by direct output. The government doesn’t manufacture products, which can prove an employee at home is actually working.

It’s instead intellectual occupation.

“We are managing 'knowledge workers,' ” said David Mader, a former IRS official who is now senior vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton.

Mader moderated a panel with three departments’ CHCOs at the Interagency Resource Management Conference on March 16.

Michael Kane, the Energy Department’s CHCO, said managers need to make their employees understand their program’s purpose and how they contribute to that goal.

Most important, those employees need to realize why their job is critical to accomplishing the objective.

“You have to make them own their role,” Kane said.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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