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Exposed: The dark side of telework

Despite the benefits telework promises – from slashing costs to ramping up productivity – many are cynical about this increasingly common way of working, saying managers are turning a blind eye to those who violate the new privileges and policies. Are federal agencies oblivious to the pitfalls of this new way of working? FCW readers seem to think so.

One frustrated reader emailed me to share what goes on in her government agency, saying how employees claim to telework when they are in fact doing other things. She listed many examples of blatant abuse, including:

*Employees who listed telework on their timesheet but were seen out shopping.

*One worker didn’t have enough sick leave, so managers rigged up medical telework saying he/she was contagious. When his/her birthday fell on medical telework days, the employee came into the office to celebrate.

*Another employee who lives out of state claims to be teleworking when he/she in fact is on vacation.

* One employee stayed home “teleworking” because he/she did not want to use personal leave but did not want to come in to work either.

*Another worker said she was teleworking but was in fact home awaiting deliveries of appliances. She told other employees who needed some information from her that they would have to wait until she returned to the office – days later.

“I think telework can be a good thing, but it is being abused here,” said the reader who contacted me. “I don't know whom to talk to because these uses are approved by our senior managers and people are stealing from the government when they use telework instead of leave. I am a taxpayer as well as government employee.”

“I am not a nut case,” she continued, “I don't go looking for things to dig at -- here, these things are so out in the open and so dishearteningly obvious.”

She is far from alone in her criticism. Other readers have previously shared their gripes with telework, citing inept managers as one of the major challenges when it comes to telework.  In commenting on the article "Workplace flexibility could expand dramatically soon," a reader called Coloradoite said telework is about trust, which he/she said is something many managers seem to lack.

“It's currently hard to even get permission to telework here as upper management doesn't trust that people will be working,” Coloradoite said. "’If I can't see you, you won't be working’" seems to be the mantra. This may happen in D.C., but it will NEVER happen here in Denver unless it’s FORCED upon the management staff. There will be some reason to deny it.”

A reader who chimed in on the post "How to turn telework naysayers around" agreed that the problem is the lack of trust managers have and offered insight on where that distrust comes from: 

"The basic problem is that managers don't trust people to work out of their sight," the reader said. "That, in turn, stems from the managers not being able to break down the work into pieces with deadlines and allocating the pieces to their people while holding them accountable for the deadline. What many managers think is that ALL time should be used for the managers tasks -- which is erroneous."

However, employees should not always blame management when telework fails, another reader said.

“Telework exposes management incompetency since we all know a lot of managers became managers by putting in the time, not by being innovative or creative leaders or even being competent or good at what they do," said the reader who commented on "Ineligible to telework? Join the club." "That is your block to making telework work.”

Are federal agencies really ready to take the leap to an expanded virtual workforce? Are government managers turning a blind eye to the abuse of telework privileges? Or are they simply oblivious? What are some of your horror stories on telework?

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Nov 09, 2011 at 12:19 PM


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