CIO discovers the personal value of telework

When her husband needed medical care last year, Casey Coleman found that federal telework policies made it possible to manage work and home.

Casey Coleman learned firsthand how valuable telework can be.

Coleman, CIO at the General Services Administration, teleworked for four months from the other side of the country -- Seattle, Wash. -- while her husband got medical care for a serious illness.

Coleman maintained Eastern Time work hours and used video, Web chats and Web meeting software to interact frequently with coworkers while she was gone.

“When I returned, some people said they had not known I was gone,” Coleman said at a Telework Exchange Town Hall meeting on May 2. “It was a seamless, positive experience.”

The  semi-annual telework town hall event explored telework issues and success stories for federal agencies. It was sponsored by the Telework Exchange, a public-private partnership.

At the GSA, about 50 percent of the telework-eligible workforce is currently participating in telework at least once during each two-week period. About 80 percent of the total workforce is eligible.

The agency has distributed about 10,000 government-owned Blackberries, smart phones and tablet computers to its 13,000 workers, Coleman said. The devices use layered security, including encryption, allowing them to operate on the GSA’s network.

Mobility works well at the GSA because many of the workers must visit other agencies and do other travel to carry out their jobs, she said.

The GSA is taking advantage of those existing schedules, along with telework policies and mobility tools in its headquarters renovation to be completed in 2014.

“We will have 2,000 seats for 4,000 employees,” Coleman said.

Through scheduling arrangements, telework and maintaining the usual job structures and travel, the GSA workers will be able to effectively share the smaller space, she said.

Thanks to investments in IT, telework and mobility, there will be significant savings in real estate costs in comparison’s to the GSA’s previous buildings, she said.

Robert Brown, assistant chief of staff for the Marine Corps Recruiting Command, spoke on a panel with Coleman about adoption of telework at his agency. He said he distributed mobile devices to 4,000 recruiters in 1,500 locations last year.

The agency reached out to industry to help design an architecture and security for the devices. Brown said that was a good strategy because the recruiters learned from best practices that are common in business workplaces.

“We are recruiters, so we are a sales force,” Brown said.

He said the mobile devices have been very effective in helping the recruiters build relationships with potential volunteers in their homes, at Starbucks and at other locations conducive to conversation.

The mobility is especially helpful in their reporting on their activity, he added, because taking notes on a mobile device one time is easier and faster than taking notes on paper, then transferring the notes to a computer later.

Peter Tseronis, chief technology officer at the Energy Department, said telework agreements at his agency allowed him to recently return home from a work conference a day early to tend to a family need. He continued to participate in the conference by remote streaming video online. The arrangement also saved taxpayers a night of hotel costs, which made his supervisor happy, he said.

“If your supervisor believes in telework, that is very significant,” Tseronis said.

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