How to unlock the potential of a mobile federal workforce

Fully realizing the benefits of telework will require a significant departure from current practice, writes Cisco's Alan Balutis.

Alan Balutis is senior director and distinguished fellow at Cisco Systems’  Internet Business Solutions Group. This article is drawn from a longer white paper co-authored with Albert Cho. The full paper is available at www.teleworkexchange.com.

The Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 has generated tremendous momentum for efforts to increase workforce mobility options for federal employees. The act paves the way for the federal government to unlock significant benefits, including greater productivity, resilience, environmental sustainability and employee inclusion. Moreover, it creates accountability for achieving those objectives in the form of telework managing officers (TMOs), senior officials responsible for telework policy development and implementation.

Realizing the act’s objectives will require a significant departure from current practice. To date, agencies have focused on increasing telework participation rates through advertising, employee training and resolving technological barriers. Meaningful progress toward the act’s other goals — including emergency readiness, energy use, recruitment, retention, performance and productivity — will require developing integrated mobility strategies linked to agency business objectives.

As the first TMOs assume their roles, they have a unique opportunity to use workforce mobility — which includes telework and a broader range of tools and systems to enable productivity anywhere, anytime and on any device — as a catalyst to create a more flexible, productive and inspiring federal workplace.

A brief look at several business objectives highlights the importance of integrated planning.

  • Enhanced productivity, satisfaction and retention. Perhaps the most obvious rationale for an aggressive telework strategy is the opportunity to increase employee productivity, happiness and retention. Office of Personnel Management findings show that teleworking employees have a better understanding of work expectations and higher job satisfaction than respondents not able to telework. Cisco Systems’ research indicates that for every 60 minutes employees save on commuting, they work an extra 40 minutes.
  • Inclusion and diversity. Cisco’s research has also established that mobility tools can help older employees stay engaged — an important consideration given that almost 25 percent of the federal workforce is at or near retirement age. Flexibility is also important for other groups, including people with disabilities and working parents.
  • Continuity of operations. Federal agencies recognize the importance of incorporating mobility into COOP planning. However, a mobility strategy for COOP will look very different from a traditional telework plan and will require identifying critical functions, training select employees, running scenario exercises and investing in resilient infrastructure, such as virtualized desktop PCs that can run securely on any device to ensure continuity in crisis situations.
  • Sustainable energy use. Telework can help reduce energy consumption in at least two ways: by reducing the amount of transportation required and by decreasing office space and utility requirements. A mobility strategy that increases the frequency and regularity of telework can enable office reconfigurations to decrease the amount of square footage per employee and, in turn, reduce real estate costs, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

Those examples demonstrate the degree to which complementary but separate policy objectives generate different requirements that might not be addressed by a focus on increasing casual telework participation rates. A policy of encouraging telework across agencies is a “no regrets” move, but it is insufficient to achieve significant progress toward the business objectives outlined in the Telework Enhancement Act. To unlock the true benefits of workforce mobility, TMOs and agency leaders must embed mobility within the broader context of strategic planning.

The Telework Enhancement Act provides the federal government with an exciting opportunity to reshape the workplace. Going beyond mere compliance can enable the government to make real progress toward its business objectives and become more productive, inclusive, resilient and sustainable.

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