Printer Friendly

Building telework in Fairfax County government: a great way to work--Fairfax teleworks. (The Evolving Workplace).

Series Editor's Note

This third installment of a four-part series offers a case study of a county's efforts to increase dramatically participation in telework to respond to a goal unanimously adopted by the metropolitan area's Council of Governments (COG) in April 2002. The goal calls for 20 percent of the region's workforce to telework one or more days per week by 2005. The COG's 2001 regional household survey showed that approximately 15 percent of the region's estimated 2.7 million workers telework one or more days per week. Therefore, meeting the region's 2005 telework goal will mean increasing the number of teleworkers from the 400,000 reported in 2001 to nearly 600,000 over the next several years.

Collectively, federal, state, and local governments in the Washington metropolitan region account for approximately 22 percent of the region's workforce. However, governmental organizations have not been as quick to implement teleworking as the private sector. Fairfax County, VA, Montgomery County, MD, and the City of Rockville, MD, have implemented successful pilot programs, and Fairfax County is now in the process of expanding its telework program to 10 percent of its eligible workforce, meaning that approximately 700 new telecommuters will be added over the next three years. Quite a challenge considering that the county's telework program has grown modestly, from 50 participants in the pilot program launched in 1994, to approximately 300 teleworkers as of January 2000.

In this article, Fairfax County project manager Carol Stuart Goldberg describes the county's approach for increasing the number of teleworkers exponentially. As noted in her article, technology has been a major factor; hence our inclusion of a related discussion regarding emerging remote access solutions contributed by Dave Thomas of Clifton Gunderson LLP. The fourth and final installment in this series will continue our exploration and discussion of telework success factors and public sector case studies.

--Harriet West

The initial groundbreaking for telework occurred in January 1994 when the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, in response to a report from the county's Commission for Women, directed staff to study the feasibility of telework in the organization. A yearlong telework pilot followed in 1995. The pilot included 50 teleworkers from 14 departments. The results were closely monitored. Quantitative data on commuting miles and hours saved, costs to the organization, and productivity of the teleworkers were assessed. Qualitative data on manager, coworker, customer, and teleworker satisfaction with telework were also considered. Based on the demonstrated success of the pilot program, the board approved telework as a work option in 1996. By that time, close to 100 employees were teleworking on a regular basis. The key components of the county's telework program are that:

* it involves regular work performed at an alternate work site (e.g., the employee's home or another location);

* participation is voluntary; and

* participation must approved by management.

Getting Comfortable

By January 2000, seven years after the idea of telework was originally floated in the organization, the county's program had grown incrementally to about 300 teleworkers. The number of employees who worked from home or another Location one or more days a month represented six percent of the approximately 5,000 jobs in the organization suited to telework. Telework was fairly well integrated throughout the county government with about one-third of all departments having one or more teleworkers. Additionally, most departments with no teleworkers remained open to the idea, but did not pursue it until an employee requested it or the department had a pressing need to set up a work-from-home arrangement for an employee recuperating from illness or injury.

Participation in telework was steady but modest. Telework guidelines were published in a "starter kit" made available to all departments and to any county employee upon request. The county's Department of Human Resources served as the point of contact for telework information. The department staff answered questions, tracked data on participation, updated policies and procedures, and coordinated information on the technology support available for teleworkers. But despite these efforts, the organization had reached a "telework plateau" and a focused effort would be needed to move the program to the next level.

Getting on with It

In 2000, the members of the county board of supervisors again set the direction for the organization and led the way. The county hosted a regional conference (dubbed WACOT for Washington Area Conference on Telework) at the government center. Nearly 500 business leaders, elected officials, and others interested in telework attended the conference. Furthermore, the board endorsed the regional goal adopted by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) to increase the level of teleworking in the region to 20 percent of the workforce by 2005. For Fairfax County government, this meant adding 700 teleworkers to the current base of 300 to reach a total of 1,000 teleworkers by 2005. Achieving this goal presented a different challenge for the county than starting the pilot program and maintaining slow, but consistent growth. Now, telework had to move into the mainstream and the number of participants had to grow exponentially, rather than incrementally.

Internally, the program continued to be supported on a part-time basis at the staff level and the county hired a contract consultant in December 2001 to provide short-term assistance with developing and implementing the expansion program. A telework expansion group was formed which meets regularly to provide leadership for the telework expansion effort. The group includes representatives from the Office of the County Executive, the county departments of transportation, technology, tax administration, fire and rescue, police, libraries, vehicle services, and office for women; it includes telemanagers and teleworkers.

The county's telework expansion effort focused on several key areas including management buy-in, top-level support, awareness, training, and technology.

Getting Management Buy-In

To broaden the base of teleworkers, support would be needed from managers in every department. The county recognized that teleworking did not have to resonate with all managers; however, it would have to be recognized and accepted as an organizational goal if the expansion efforts were to be successful. Reasons for increased participation in telework must be clearly articulated and widely understood if telework is to become part of the organizational culture. In short, telework had to be reintroduced to the workforce in a way that was both comfortable and compelling.

Demonstrating Top-Level Support

Top-level support has long been recognized as a key success factor to teleworking; hence, the county executive's involvement was essential. He communicated the county's commitment to MWCOG's regional telework goal through e-mail to all employees and in a series of employee briefings held in December 2001. The county executive challenged employees at all levels of the organization--including his own department heads--to consider teleworking one or more days a week. He explained the negative impact to the region if air-quality standards are not met by 2005, including the potential for reduced federal transportation funds and reduced quality of life from traffic congestion and air pollution. He also emphasized the county's responsibility to do all it can as an employer to support the regional goal.

Increasing Awareness and Interest

Another voice for the value and practicality of telework came from employees who manage teleworkers or telework themselves. Testimonials from these employees in the employee newspaper and at the employee briefings provided first-hand accounts of positive experiences with telework. Their message rang true because the managers and teleworkers also talked about their own initial hesitation or uncertainty about telework.

After the initial briefings, a full-scale telework expansion campaign began to focus attention on telework and the organization's s commitment to the regional goal. Telework pages were developed for the county's internal Web site (the infoweb) to provide telework information that is easy to get to and fun to use. The county's telework effort has a brand name and a logo that appear on training material and other communications. A print advertisement promoting telework will appear monthly in the employee newsletter.

Training for Teleworkers and Managers

Training sessions for current and future and teleworkers and their managers attracted more than 600 participants over a three-month period, with more employees signing up for future sessions. Between January and March 2002, 25 part-day sessions were conduced. Attendance was voluntary and averaged 25 participants per session. The training covered the skill sets, planning, and preparation required for successful telework arrangements. The primary goal of the training was to provide managers and teleworkers with the practical information and insight they need to make telework work, not only for themselves, but also for their particular work unit, department, and the organization as a whole.

Getting the Right Technology in Place

As more employees have begun teleworking, a variety of technology-related issues have surfaced. For example, the county cannot afford to purchase additional standard personal computers (PCs) and software packages for teleworkers, yet requiring teleworkers to pay for a new standard package themselves would eliminate many employees from the program, and send a message that telework was only for a select few. This issue has been addressed by either having the teleworker use his or her own PC (many employees already have a computer at home) or by obtaining a loaner PC from the county's PC replacement program.

While this approach has solved one problem, it does not solve another--no unified technology platform means hardware and software differences exist among PCs. Additionally, the level of comfort with technology and skills also varies among current and potential teleworkers. Employees at the office have the benefit of technology support on-site or close by, whereas, teleworkers must rely on the technology department's help desk for assistance. Some employees are more adept at working around technology challenges on their own, while others will require more one-on-one assistance. With more teleworkers using various hardware and software configurations and requiring varying levels of support, the central help desk could easily become overwhelmed.

Remote Access Solutions

Despite these challenges, the county's technology department concluded that it could support the telework expansion program with a combination of existing technology and new efforts that were already in test or pilot mode. It was also determined that, given the realities of the organization, one size would not fit all. A business decision was made to offer different ways to connect and different access to software applications based on the needs of the teleworker. A teleworker can access the county's network by "dialing up" using plain old telephone service, a method of remote access used by the county for many years. Dialup access does not require the teleworker to have (and pay for) an Internet service provider. But dial-up access is not the most cost-effective or efficient way to support the projected increase in teleworkers. At the time the telework expansion program began in late 2001, the technology department was already working on support for remote access via Internet connection.

As of March 2002, teleworkers who have an Internet service provider and high speed Internet access through a cable modem. or digital subscriber line can connect to the county's network. The county's dial-up connection, however, remains in place to support teleworkers without an Internet service provider and provide backup capability if a problem arises with an Internet connection.

In May 2002, the technology department plans to roll out a thin client server to support the business applications used by most teleworkers. This technology application will enable employees to access files and systems as if they were sitting at their computer in the office. The importance of the thin client server is that it eliminates the cost of providing duplicate software licenses for the PC at work and the PC at home. Another advantage is that since the teleworker's PC is simply acting as a "dumb terminal" to view applications on the Citrix server, the employee's equipment can be old or new and have any operating system.

Information Security

Remote access security has been handled for many years through a "secure ID" issued to each remote access user. The secure ID is a small device with an ever-changing string of numbers that, when entered with a password, provides the user with access to the county's network. In addition to the secure ID, the county is combining virtual private network software with high speed Internet access for added security. Furthermore, the county's licensing arrangement for anti-virus software covers teleworkers as well as onsite workers.

Communication

Unified messaging is another communication technology that was in the works and will be looked at for teleworkers as well as employees who work in the field such as inspectors, social workers, public safety employees, and others. Unified messaging allows calls to reach the employee directly from a pager, work phone, cell phone, or home phone. The technology can simplify access, improve response time, and is transparent to the caller.

Low-Tech Applications

The technology options and solutions the department is working on will make it easier for employees to work from anywhere. That said, not every teleworker is a heavy technology user or needs to be. Many teleworkers use an agency laptop or their own PC with all the applications they need loaded on it. They work on the applications "locally" rather than on a network. They may only need to connect to county systems to access their e-mail. Part of the county's telework training involves helping employees select tasks that are most efficiently performed from an alternate work site. Some of these tasks do not require a PC or access to the county's network.

Getting Results

The combination of support from the board of supervisors and the county executive, plus the communication campaign and technology enhancements, appears to be working. While still early in the telework expansion process, increased interest in telework is evident in the number of employees attending briefings and training sessions, asking for information via e-mail and phone, and signing up for telework. There are now teleworkers in departments that previously had none. Managers have expressed interest in telework as a way to continue business operations during inclement weather or other emergencies. And the county's soon-to-open south county center in Alexandria, which is 30 miles from the main government complex, will have space for employees to telework.

The spring and summer months of 2002 will see continued focus on the telework expansion program. Followup communication will be sent to any employee who has expressed interest in telework. A monthly telework orientation is planned to assist new teleworkers with technology and best work practices. Teleworkers will be able to share tips and solve problems online and in brown-bag lunch sessions. Promotions on the county's infoweb will encourage employees to visit the telework Web pages to learn more about telework. In June 2002, a program manual will be sent to all departments and will be available to other employers. The county's telework brand and logo has been well received and, it is hoped, will continue to create the kind of "buzz" that keeps interest and participation in telework growing.

Carol Stuart Goldberg is the Fairfax County telework expansion project manager. She has been involved with the county's telework program since its inception in 1994.
COPYRIGHT 2002 Bureaucrat, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

 
Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Fairfax County, Virginia
Author:Goldberg, Carol Stuart
Publication:The Public Manager
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2002
Words:2502
Previous Article:How to plan for and manage success in a labor relations environment. (Labor-Management Relations).
Next Article:Commercial solutions for secure remote access: how virtual office technology is keeping pace with the demands of increased telework. (The Evolving...
Topics:

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters