John Berry: Federal managers 'the last piece of the puzzle' in telework

The success of telework hinges on federal managers, who should not only support their remote workers but keep an open mind about finding creative approaches to challenges that arise, said the Obama administration’s top workforce official.

Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry delivered the March 13 keynote at the Federal Managers Association’s 74th National Convention & Management Training Seminar in Arlington, Va. His speech emphasized the importance of federal managers and how their role is not only to spearhead the workforce but to steer it in the right direction as times evolve.

“To reap the benefits of telework, we need [federal managers], we need to practice, we need to know out systems and personnel can handle work from remote locations, before disaster hits, whether it be natural or otherwise,” he said.

Thanks to telework, OPM, along with the General Services Administration and other agencies, has reduced its real estate footprint. By allowing more employees to work remotely, the agency was able to close down a call center in Pittsburgh, Pa., saving $200,000 a year, Berry said.

“All that teleworking, the potential savings, as well as the increased resilience of our operations counts on you,” he said, referring to the roomful of government managers. “I know it can feel like a risk; many managers can get nervous about employees they just can’t swing by and see and peer over their shoulder.”
 
Last year’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey revealed that one-fourth of all government workers reported that although their role permits them to telework, their supervisors don’t. Those who believed management is the only obstacle to telework scored lower on all the other survey questions than those who were allowed to telework, Berry said.

“It comes down to being the simple matter of trust,” Berry said. “People who don’t feel entrusted aren’t going to be happy. People whose duties present legitimate barrier to telework tend to be understanding.”

Managers not only need to discuss with employees telework eligibility but they need to be willing to explain why certain duties need to be done in the office. They also should be willing to hear proposals and creative solutions to problems that may arise, Berry said.

“Technology and society are moving, and we can’t afford to just sit still and allow it to happen,” he said. “We need to face that future with open minds and good problem-solving skills.”Berry also gave a nod to his GSA colleague Administrator Martha Johnson for what he called “very cutting-edge stuff” in telework, citing hoteling and “social days” when teams get together and interact face to face “and create that support structure that recognizes all of the needs of a human being.”

“The technology, the security issues have all been resolved,” Berry said. “You still have to think it through and prepare for it but . . . you can make this work. Now the last piece of the puzzle is our managerial support to help define [telework] and maintain productivity, maintain services and increase out resilience.”

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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