The mobile revolution could transform the next-generation federal workforce

It was one of the most popular -- and endearing -- YouTube videos of 2011: a baby trying to use a magazine the same way as an iPad. But to Jeri Buchholz, assistant administrator for human capital management at NASA, the video captured a glimpse of the future workforce, a tech-savvy generation never bound by office space or rigid work schedules.

“Twenty years from today, that young woman is going to walk into our workforce, and we need to be ready for that,” she said. “’We need to be ready for a workforce that views this device not as a way of not having to talk to people but rather as way to stay connected, and is perfectly happy waking up at 4 a.m. to do work from her cozy bed, without getting out of that bed, and perfectly willing to completely blur the lines between work and their private lives.”

Speaking at the Sept. 25 Telework Town Hall meeting organized by Telework Exchange, Buchholz and her fellow panelists discussed how telework should be seen as strategic management tool in the government workspace, particularly in preparing for the next-generation public servants who have different needs and wants.

"This is the time to wake up and move into a 21st century and use telework as a tool to get things done,” said Justin Johnson, deputy chief of staff at the Office of Personnel Management. “We got plenty of room to grow by telework participation, but counting head shouldn’t be the measure of success.”

Once considered just an employee perk, telework has recently gained more traction as a strategic management tool. The perception that teleworkers are less productive because they’re offsite and not managed by traditional means is also slowly changing, making it  “somewhat ironic that telework is driving performance management, because obviously you can’t manage what you can’t see,” Johnson said.

For the purpose of recruiting and retaining the future government workforce, managers, supervisors and leaders alike need to embrace telework and maximize its use, said William Milton, chief human capital officer at the Agriculture Department’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration.

“Our workforce must be viewed as our most valuable resource, and telework is an opportunity for individuals to have work-life balance,” he said. “If we’re going to retain a workforce that’s going to be satisfied with their employer organization, and want to refer their friends to [that] agency, we must take whatever steps necessary to effectively utilize telework or we’re going to have a challenge going forward.”

Telework comprises a major part of NASA’s “Work from Anywhere” program. The initiative allows the space agency’s employees to use mobile devices to work remotely from literally anywhere in the world, whether it’s at home or in Paris, Buchholz said. 

"We’re pretty sure that if your job requires you to be sitting on a console at midnight so that a rocket-powered sky crane can lower rover onto Mars that you will be there regardless of your work schedule or what your telework agreement says, and we kind of take that approach across the board,” she said.

The "Magazine is an iPad that doesn't work" video:

About the Author

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

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