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Beyond telework: How the federal workplace ought to work

Federal managers need to stop worrying about where their employees are working and start focusing on what work is getting done.

That’s the basic message of an article we recently posted by Deloitte’s Anne Weisberg and William D. Eggers. Their article is part of the FCW Challenge, a joint FCW-GovLoop project to spark debate about key topics in the federal IT community.

To start the debate on workforce, we put forward this intentionally provocative thesis: “If you take the Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) directive to its logical conclusion, every government employee should be able to work from anywhere, including home, but also from the road. But agency managers will never give up their need for command and control.”

But Weisberg and Eggers say that change is possible—and necessary.

They say they know it is possible, because thousands of federal employees already telework, as was most apparent when the Washington metropolitan area was paralyzed by blizzards earlier this year. For days on end, federal managers couldn’t worry about where their employees were. They only cared that the work was getting done.

Ultimately, however, that mind-set is less about accommodating employees and more about setting higher expectations.

“Once you think of work this way, then it’s easy to see how managers and their teams need to be more explicit and transparent about performance expectations, and more coordinated about how to meet those expectations.” Weisberg and Eggers write. “’Management by walking around’ is replaced by managing to results – and giving the team a lot of say in how they achieve those outcomes. Organizations that embrace this way of working have more engaged workers and achieve greater results.”

What do you think? Read the rest of the article (“Workplace flexibility as the new normal”) and post a comment. We will publish the article and the best responses in the June 14 of Federal Computer Week.

You can also read more about the FCW Challenge here.

Here are the other topics up for debate:

Government social networks are Towers of Babel, doomed to topple.

The Open-Government Plan is Vaporware 2.0.

Acquisition 2.0 will give ethics officers the heebie-jeebies.

A mandate for the cloud is wishing for pie in the sky.

Cybersecurity: This is a job for McGruff the Crime Dog.

Posted on May 14, 2010 at 12:18 PM

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Reader comments

Tue, Jun 1, 2010 Dave

In response to "Steve" at DC Agency, the question about performance for his "de minimus" players isn't "where are you," it's "where's that tasker?" If employees don't perform without face-to-face supervision, they're too expensive to keep: not even the government can afford a manager for every employee!

Mon, May 17, 2010

Oh and no one should use a personally owned computer, all should be using laptops. The cost difference is so small now that some agencies, DISA, for example are trending to almost all laptop workstations. Using laptops also reduces energy consumption, provides ready mobility in case of disaster, and tends to improve overall productivity. Soon the desktop will go the way of the mainframe, oh wait, this is the federal government, and yes the mainframe still exists, albeit with back leveled and no longer supported software. So maybe I am being too optimistic since the same decision makers who are dragging their knuckles on telework may do the same thing on laptops. Finally, someone will raise the issue of security regarding laptops...don't store data on the laptop, keep it on the server where it should be. Too radical? Where do you think all the data on the internet is stored? On laptops? :)

Mon, May 17, 2010 Dan

Let's face it, if you can measure it you can't manage it. Clearly telework continues to be elusive. By the way, at a conference several years ago I was "pitching" telework to a federal manager and used the example of "snow days", his reply people see these as days off and will not embrace the idea of working...they are entitled to the day(s) off. This was an "ah ha" moment for me. Clearly there are different motivations and issues for telework, but it's time for the federal government to embrace what so many commercial organizations have done and that is to enable people to work from home, if for no other reason than to help build resiliency into our coop strategy.

Mon, May 17, 2010 oracle2world

There is FINALLY a new acronym for this: ROWE. Once you pass out some coffee cups with this on them, you're on a roll. But I digress. The bottom line? Abstract people are very comfortable working remotely - like collaborating with folks around the world has always been a big part of the research community dating back to pre-electricity days. Everyone else, HAS to meet with their sewing circle, the more the better, and will NEVER feel comfortable with telework. That is just human nature, and even the complete goof-offs in gov't, folks you would expect would love telework, shun it. ... By the way, where can I get a job repeating that wisdom to manage by results? That I believe used to be known in one incarnation as "MBO", management by objective? As long as people like to hear themselves talk and be adulated like a god, forget about them worrying about results. The psychic satisfaction of that ego trip is like crack cocaine.

Mon, May 17, 2010

Inresponse to Mr. Longs statement, I and several others in my office tele-work at least 2 days a week. I work for a retired Army 1st SGT, at DLA and we have nothing but the greatest results. Direct evindence of our performance has shown greater efficiency and increased productivity as well as using less gov't resources. Our IT system is rock solid, we are profoundly more happy, moral is outstanding, we can work at home when we are sick, thus preventing the spread of illness and I don't have to commute 3 hours a day, saving time and gas and money.

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