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How to turn telework naysayers around

What can feds do to get resistant senior management on board with telework?

One tactic that's been successful: Implement a small pilot program first, said panelists  who spoke at the Telework Exchange's Telework  Town Hall on Oct. 18.

With telework becoming increasingly popular within the federal government, some departments still struggle to get everyone to realize the benefits of a mobile, flexible workforce. However, some feds have fully embraced telework and continue to push forward despite the obstacles, said participants in one of the panel discussions at today’s event in the Ronald Reagan Building in downtown D.C.

The leadership at the Agriculture Department "truly does walks the walk, and they ensure that everyone is held accountable for upholding USDA’s strong strategic telework program goals," said Mika Cross, work life and wellness program manager, at the USDA's Office of Human Resources Management.

Arleas Upton Kea, director of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation's division of administration, highlighted her department's view of telework as serving a larger purpose. 

"One of the things we've learned is that telework is not just something that’s nice to have, but it's really essential to us in meeting our mission," she said. But, she added, telework is "a benefit, not an automatic entitlement."

The panelists acknowledged that telework had presented several major roadblocks within their agencies, especially in terms of attitudes.Cross noted that one major obstacle was dealing with "supervisory management resistance" and overcoming the idea of "if we don’t see you, you’re not there."

There are currently more than 70,000 USDA employees who are eligible to telework, Cross said, and the agency has in the past 60 days also deployed a new reporting metrics tool to better track the performance of teleworkers.

Still, some agencies are reluctant to follow in those footsteps, the panelists said. Upton Kea offered a tip to agencies that are considering implementing telework but are meeting resistance from upper management.

"When we saw that there were a lot of naysayers, we relied upon what we know about our senior managers and our workforce: They tend to like not making firm commitments," she said and detailed how her team decided to opt for a pilot program that would allow for adjustments to be made if needed and for policies to be reviewed.

Telework has become a key component in USDA’s cultural transformation initiatives and has been embedded in the strategic road map as well, Cross said. However, there remains a lot of work to be done in fine tuning certain aspects, she acknowledged

"We haven’t cracked the nut yet; we’re still working on things like standardizing vacancy announcement for all the positions that are eligible to participate in telework so we can really [up] recruitment and return on investment that way, " Cross said.

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Oct 18, 2011 at 12:19 PM

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Reader comments

Mon, Oct 31, 2011 Marian

My daughter telecommutes 2 days a week. She says she gets far more done without the distractions of other employees who thoughtlessly yak on their cell phones (personal calls) while she otherwise tries to work. Saving an hour and a half a day by not having to drive to work doesn't hurt either. It's a win/win if the position lends itself to working from home.

Fri, Oct 28, 2011 VA Hospital

I would not be able to complete my patient's charts if I didn't have telework. I have neurological disease that is progressing. My work is easily quantified-- either I have completed the charts or I haven't. Unfortunately, a new supervisor seems to be resistannt and may want me to stay in the exam room rather than telecommute, even after all the patients have gone home!

Tue, Oct 25, 2011 Mike

I've already got a CAC reader at home. I work certain things from home 'in addition' to the normal 10 hour work-day (eat lunch at the desk while working). Not enough time to get everything done - - even while delegating and trusting employees with duties on multiple floors of the building. It's just the way it is. Blackberry is essential too. Telework for employees should be on a case-by-case basis, approved by each individual supervisor (trends should be monitored to prevent potential abuse).

Tue, Oct 25, 2011 Mike

Telework should always be considered on a 'case-by-case' basis. Most Federal Employees work from a .mil or .gov domain on a firewalled network server, etc. Most folks cannot even access this unless they are at work (and logged-in to the secure network). I can see limited telework being best utilized in situations where an employee cannot make it to work (due to weather, etc.). Either way, it should require supervisory approval on a case-by-case basis. Telework should not be the norm. Employees are also often required for meetings, whether spur-of-the-moment or pre-planned meetings (can't always call-in to these type of things).

Thu, Oct 20, 2011

My only problem with telecommuting is that I work too much. I telecommute some days each week to avoid a 2-hour commute each way. My normal work day begins at 7:30 AM but I'm an early riser so I start my work day at home at 5:30 to 6:00 AM. and yes, I continue working a couple of hours past my ending time. I am so thankful for the "benefit" that rather than drive for 4 hours each day I give that much or more time to my organization. I am a more productive and happy employee. Based on some other posted comments no wonder employers are hesitant to allow telecommuting. It is all an issue of trust and moral values - can your employer trust you to do the job when you are not under a watchful eye and do you have the moral values to honor that trust.

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