Welles:Telework's wintry mix

Telework may become a viable option for feds in emergency situations.

With December come dreams of dancing sugarplums and, for those of us in snowy areas, nightmares of commuting in bad weather. Ice and snow can cause work stoppages or slowdowns for federal employees who have not yet tried teleworking.

The relationship of telework to business continuity in an emergency or extreme weather is a "hot issue for both the public and private sectors," said Wendell Joice, the General Services Administration's telework team leader.

Office of Personnel Management officials encouraged agency managers to use telework to avoid traffic and prevent work stoppages during the political conventions in Boston and New York last summer.

"Telework is a positive tool to prevent disruption, but it is up to agency discretion to use it," said Marta Brito Perez, OPM's associate director. "We are encouraging managers to consider it in their planning for weather-related emergencies."

Joice said GSA officials are determining which technologies teleworkers should have to avoid work disruptions. Still, he notes, "it's a manager's decision on how [many] resources to devote to expand teleworking to various types of work stoppages."

Employees must be technology independent and able to work without the technical support they get at the office, Joice said. Flexibility is crucial. "Both employees and managers need to be flexible, to try out teleworking and see how it goes," he said. "It won't nail you down."

Joice advises managers and employees to get a grip on telework by understanding what they need to do to prepare. "There's misunderstanding and fears that can be overcome by managers and employees using the Web-based management tools at Telework.gov," said Joice, who teleworks.

The Web site has answers to frequently asked questions and policies for 14 agencies, including the newest participant, the Securities and Exchange Commission, where employees can telework two days a week. One answer addresses whether employees should still telework when an agency has closed due to bad weather.

At the same time that telework may become a viable option in emergency situations, agency officials are waiting to hear what Congress will do about levying appropriations penalties on agencies that are not improving employee participation in telework, an option raised during congressional hearings.

Feedback

From an employee at the Agriculture Department: "People perform really well when they are encouraged, challenged and know they are appreciated. Too many times the head of an area gets an award for lots of money, and the people who really did all of the work being recognized get nothing — not even a thanks. That causes morale breakdown faster than anything I've seen."

Welles is a retired federal employee who has worked in the public and private sectors. She lives in Bethesda, Md., and writes about work life topics for Federal Computer Week. She can be reached at judywelles@fcw.com.

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