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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Reader comments

Tue, Jun 28, 2011

A group of us have come to the conclusion that most managers are just jealous that employees under them can telework and they cannot. They chose to be managers. Although those that are teleworking are getting their work done, some managers still want you to fight the traffic to sit in the office to look at the computer instead of looking at the computer at home. I worked in an office where managers turn down their nose to teleworking and compressed days. However, when managers were given permission to telework and do a compressed day, the very one that complained about the teleworking and compressed day the most was the first one to sign up for both. Before they got permission, this particular manager, on many occasions, would call in and inform us that he would not be in the office but will be working from home so he did not have to put in a leave slip. This was his sneaky way of teleworking. This person has no managerial skills at all or people skills; folks are wondering why he is still a manger and gets away with what he gets away with. On one occasion while he was teleworking, he was sitting in the doctor’s office, with his government issued cell phone; can this manager be trusted? When you don’t trust someone, usually it is because you cannot be trusted.

Fri, Mar 25, 2011 fed

not being able to measure is all made up. What do they measure when i sit at my desk, go to lunch, on breaks, to the bathroom, etc. i actually am sometimes on the computer more when home. my work also requires me to respond to requests on a timely basis, so if iwasn't "around" then my boss would know. many private sectors also use the consult approach, piecework, and some at customer service. I can talk on the phone at home just as easy in the office. The govt as always is still behind..i do agree though that trust is earned when one teleworks, so when an employee screws up, you put them back on site. it's just that simple

Fri, Mar 25, 2011 columbus

What planet are these managers from. Almost everything that is done in the goverment is in a computer somewhere. I work in systems all day long and you tell me that they can't go in there and pull a report that states john blow did this and this. That is BS. Everything I do is in a system of one kind or another. Pull a report to see what I have done. Some days are more productive that others depending on the systems and how much research is being done. Research is about the only thing that can't be measured. But if the solutions has been found or problem solved then I guess I have been working. And it is true I have worked many times over my hours and never claimed them. In my opinion there are too many chiefs and not enough indians anyway. If they sit around all wondering what their employees are doing they are not performing their job.

Wed, Mar 23, 2011 DT Houston

The smokescreen statements, "Do you trust that your employees are really working?” , "...those out of the office are blowing off work", and, especially, "Most federal work doesn’t lend itself to measuring direct output from an employee, which makes it hard to directly measure performance" [?], won't fly: the standards set up by managers in the workplace are expressly designed to measure each worker's performance (or, else, what are all of the Quality Reviews as well as Performance Evaluations measuring?) Plenty of work-tasks lend themselves well to telework. Those against teleworking are only (once again) seeking to confuse the issue by defining things to be what they really aren't - all in an effort to throw proponents of telework off-task, and further delay full implementation. (By the way, what would be inherently wrong with allowing the managers, themselves, to telework – perhaps on a revolving basis?)

Mon, Mar 21, 2011 In Agreemnt Washington, DC

I am in violent agreement with the commenter that said, "stop treating employees like children". Not EVERY position in the Federal Govt lends itself to teleworking (what would those SES & senior mngrs do without secretaries outside their doors!). I believe the old myth about "managers MUST be in the office" is one reason why telework within within the Fed Govt will continue to lag behind the private sector. The "hand-holding" and "micro-management" will only continue to slow workforce improvement initiatives. The old GS system has given managers/supervisors an opportunity to keep the status quo in place by NOT holding non-performers accountable. Not that all Pay-for-performance lab experiments have been successful either but a change is better than the status quo!

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