Telework: breaking new ground: successful telework programs feature active top-level leadership, clear policy and guidelines, solid program support, and integration in overall agency planning.
Why and how do some federal telework programs succeed? Eight years as part of the leadership of federal telework at the General Services Administration (GSA) have shown me that when carefully planned and rigorously implemented few, if any, of these programs fail. This article discusses how success in federal telework stems from identifying practical and realistic program expectations, understanding the dynamics and measures of telework, and establishing useful and flexible policies and program design. Also required are implementation guidance, effective tools (including appropriate measures), program support, proactive senior leadership, and culture change.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) identified job performance as a key goal of its telework program, established clear policies to encourage maximum use, and bolstered the program with abundant support and aggressive top-level leadership. USPTO now has one of the largest telework programs in the federal government. As of October 2007, 3,609 employees were participating in some form of telework, an impressive 40.7 percent of the total USPTO workforce and 45.7 percent of total eligible employees. Examiners participating in one USPTO pilot telework program showed a productivity increase of 10 percent, with no difference in the quality of work. In 2003, examiners were so interested that the agency had to create a waiting list for participation in the pilot program. In part because of its use of telework, USPTO has been recognized by BusinessWeek magazine as one of the best places in America to launch a career or round one out and by Families magazine as one of the best places in the Washington area to work if you have a family.
USPTO positions are amenable to quantitative assessments of productivity, but many federal positions are not; recognizing this is another ingredient for program success. Over the years, research and assessments have shown that successful programs expect job performance simply to be undiminished. Combining this limited expectation with the other expected benefits more than adequately justifies telework implementation. As a result, these programs have consistently reported management satisfaction.
While home-based telework is fine for the majority of teleworkers, it does not work for those who have personal or work-related issues that require a setting different from their homes. Possible reasons include the home's not having a broadband Internet connection or suitable work environment, preference for group or collegial atmosphere, or simply needing to avoid distractions at home. To address this issue, Congress and GSA established a pilot project of telework centers in the Washington metropolitan area. These centers, managed by GSA, offer federal and nonfederal workers a convenient and effective telework alternative to working at home.
Center services and amenities include typical workstation and office equipment, Internet access, workspace options ranging from private and semiprivate offices to cubicles, and conference rooms with videoconferencing capability. Currently, the centers are located 16 to 80 miles from downtown Washington. They add the program flexibility needed to make telework an option for those who want to avoid the commute but still need to get out of the house. As a result, telework center users and center directors have been overwhelmingly positive about the added value and effectiveness of the centers as alternative workplaces.
Some successful agency programs--including those at GSA, the Department of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, and USPTO--identified facility space savings as a key expected telework benefit. These programs are characterized by aggressive top-level support, solid program design, and clear measures; all reported significant space savings and other successful results.
For example, USPTO's alternative office program, which combines telework and hoteling (reserving workstations at the main office as needed on nontelework days), has saved millions of dollars in avoided rental costs. Some years ago, GSA developed a tool, the Cost-per-Person Model (CPPM),which enables agencies to assess the breakeven point between the cost of additional telework, information technology (IT), and connectivity and the savings from the reduced real-estate footprint.
Recruitment and Retention
Telework can serve as a recruitment and retention tool, a big priority for federal employers as baby boomers start to retire. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) estimates that about 61,700 employees will retire in fiscal year 2008, many more than in previous years. OPM expects 40 percent of the federal workforce to retire between 2006 and 2015. The generation on tap to replace the retirees is a "digital" one that has grown up in the era of computers and mobile technology. They expect a fundamentally different experience in the workplace than their predecessors.
USPTO successfully implemented telework to counteract an employee shortage. In 2002--06, one patent examiner left the USPTO for nearly every two the agency hired. Largely as a result of the hoteling telework program it began in 2006, USPTO has improved its ability to retain qualified workers and expects to save on office space rental costs. USPTO management reported that its most effective retention efforts were those that provide additional compensation to and an enhanced work environment (such as telework) for patent examiners. Examiners who participated in OPM's 2006 Federal Human Capital Survey agreed. Of the 1,136 patent examiners who responded to the survey, 77 percent answered that the availability of a teleworking program was an important or very important reason to stay.
Investments and Costs
Although telework has many benefits, cost savings have only recently become one of them, according to agency responses to a GSA survey. An investment of about $16 million over three years to provide a "basic" teleworker-at-home solution for half the agency's total sta. can be offset by $36 million in benefits over the same three years through savings in reduced employee absence, real-estate footprint, employee retention, and improved productivity.
Investments in telework support other critical agency-wide objectives, including IT modernization efforts, support of mobile workers, and legislative compliance. Combining telework with the alternative office enables agencies to reduce costs and better use current facilities. Moreover, employing remote alternative worksites accommodates workers who need to work in a high-security environment or who are adversely affected by base relocation programs. Telework is also a key tool in efforts to prepare for national emergencies such as natural disasters and pandemics.
Emergency Planning, Preparation, and Response
On May 3, 2006, President Bush issued the Implementation Plan for the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza, which outlines the government's approach for dealing with the threat of pandemic influenza. It states: "All departments and agencies will be responsible for developing pandemic plans that ... ensure that the department or agency will be able to maintain its essential functions and services in the face of significant and sustained absenteeism." The Department of Health and Human Services, for example, expects an absenteeism rate of up to 40 percent in the middle of a severe pandemic. For most agencies, an excellent way to cope with such absenteeism is to allow employees to work from home.
For telework programs to be effective during an emergency, they must already be in place. As many employees as possible should have telework capability (that is, current telework arrangements, connectivity, and equipment commensurate with their work needs) and enough opportunities to telework to ensure systems have been tested and are known to be functional. This will also ensure that any security concerns can be adequately addressed.
For a telework program to succeed, managers of teleworkers must use performance-based management--identify and communicate the key performance indicators to teleworkers and then focus on the quality and timeliness of deliverables, rather than hours worked in a rigid schedule. Tasks must be explicitly defined and expectations must be properly set at the beginning of each project, and a system must be in place for teleworkers to report their progress. However, teleworkers should not be held to higher expectations or subjected to onerous reporting requirements compared with workers in the main office.
Implementing a new work management practice requires culture change. As Howard Risher explains in the fall 2007 issue of The Public Manager, culture is often the most important consideration in gaining acceptance for new policies and work management practices. "The system or process for evaluating employee performance by itself is not enough to define the culture.... [T]he continued reinforcement of performance by a multiplicity of practices is responsible for creating a performance culture."
A federal telework program will never succeed without strong and consistent top-level management support. A good example is the recently issued challenge by GSA administrator, Lurita Doan, who is pushing the agency to lead by example and increase the number of eligible employees participating in telework. The goal is to have 50 percent of eligible GSA employees teleworking at least one day per week by the end of calendar year 2010. She has also set interim goals of 20 percent by the end of calendar year 2008 and 40 percent by the end of calendar year 2009. Occasional and situational telework beyond those numbers is also being encouraged. GSA participation in telework is already more than twice the federal rate. (The administrator recently spent the day working at one of the GSA-sponsored telework centers and announced plans to continue teleworking every month.)
Leading by example and before any legislative requirement, GSA has also appointed a telework managing officer, or champion. Furthermore, to streamline bill-paying procedures and thereby increase incentives for GSA organizations to utilize telework centers, the administrator is creating a central fund set aside for telework center user fees. Managers can approve employee use of a telework center and simply send a request to the central fund instead of having the telework center user fees taken from the unit's budget.
Administrator Doan has made it clear that these efforts are the next steps in using telework to its fullest advantage to accomplish a wide range of GSA work, which includes encouraging other agencies to challenge themselves to maximize telework use and supporting their efforts through GSA's Federal Acquisition Service and Public Buildings Service offerings. She says that GSA's Workplace Solutions can be an effective tool for improving agencies' telework participation.
GSA has a number of resources to help federal managers and agencies implement or improve telework programs, from policy guidelines to promotion materials (see box). Most of these resources are available at Telework. gov, a site jointly maintained by GSA and OPM.
Telework centers Fourteen centers are located 16 to 80 miles from downtown Washington. These centers, managed by GSA, offer federal and nonfederal workers a convenient and effective telework alternative to working at home. The services and amenities available include typical workstation and office equipment, Internet access, workspace options ranging from private and semiprivate offices to cubicles, and conference rooms with videoconferencing capability. New promotion materials and poster Agency telework coordinators can find several new publications and a telework centers poster at www.gsa.gov/teleworklibrary under "Telework Promotion Materials" and "Telework Centers Resource Materials." Interactive promotion video for DC area This is the first interactive Flash video ever posted on GSA's Web site. It summarizes the benefits of telework and allows Washington-based viewers to find a telework center near them and contact their agency telework coordinator. It can be viewed at www.gsa.gov/teleworkvideo. A looping file of the video is also available for use in making presentations and staffing exhibits. "4 Easy Steps to Register and Start Using a Telework Center" The registration process is now stated in "4 Easy Steps" with interactive Web site links. These may be found just below the video at www.gsa.gov/teleworkvideo and in a series of new publications now offered at www.gsa.gov/teleworklibrary. Interactive map of telework centers in DC area Web site visitors may now locate a center and see what it looks like by just clicking the link at "Easy Step" number 2. Just scroll to a center location to view it or click it to find the exact address and rate. "Guidelines for Alternative Workplace Arrangements" Federal Management Regulation (FMR) Bulletin 2006-B3 establishes policy guidelines for agencies implementing and operating alternative workplace arrangements in the federal sector. This first-of-its-kind policy document helps agencies resolve commonly encountered telework implementation issues, such as the provision of workplace equipment to teleworkers and the payment of utility costs for alternative worksites. "Information Technology and Telecommunications Guidelines for Federal Telework and Other Alternative Workplace Arrangement Programs" FMR Bulletin 2007-B1--which integrates guidance from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Office of Management and Budget, the Government Accountability Office, and GSA--provides telework technology and security information in a consolidated, easy-to-read format that covers technology topics such as basic equipment, telecommunications, security, privacy, training, and support. Analysis of Home-Based Telework Technology Barriers Based on survey and other information from agency chief information officers, managers, teleworkers, telework coordinators, and others involved in telework programs, this 2002 study found that no IT issue is a barrier to the growth of telework and solutions are available to address the perceived barriers. Telework Technology Cost Study This 2006 study estimates the investment levels needed to modernize agency IT infrastructures to support a large-scale telework program, assesses the financial and nonfinancial benefits of these enhancements (due to telework and other sources), and identifies steps agencies can take to expand IT support for their telework programs. CPPM This Excel-based tool enables users to benchmark and compute the cost per person for workspace, IT, telecommunications, telework, and other alternative work environments. It can also calculate potential cost savings for different workspace scenarios. A copy of the CPPM can be requested online at www.gsa.gov/cppm.
Effective telework programs are being implemented by federal agencies. These programs are cost-effective and significantly reduce traffic, improve air quality, and reduce the dependence on foreign sources of oil. They also provide additional value in the areas of continuity, recruitment and retention, and quality of life for our federal workforce. The ingredients of successful programs include proactive top-level leadership, clear policy mandates and guidelines, solid program support and integration of telework into overall agency planning, utilization of telework applications and recommended practices, and high-visibility program promotion.
This article covers the basics of successful federal telework programs. Managers should approve telework where it makes sense, not agonize over cases where it doesn't, and move forward. They should plan a sensible, achievable program (but not be afraid to set stretch goals), learn from mistakes and make the necessary adjustments, and push on. They need to trust their employees and manage by results, and they will find that the work will continue to get done.
Endless hand-wringing and hypothesizing--trying to satisfy every qualm and anticipate every problem before beginning implementation--do not work. Overly cautious federal managers who excessively analyze and procrastinate should consider whether they are ready for the next phase in their professional lives. Technological, cultural, and demographic changes have already driven the workplace into a brave new world of flexibility and virtuality, and managers cannot effectively run a twenty-first-century workplace with twentieth-century skills.
GSA. Telework Technology Cost Study. www.gsa.gov/teleworklibrary.
Homeland Security Council. Implementation Plan for the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza. May 3, 2006. Excerpt available online at www.telework.gov/courses/Employees/Final_Lesson05/ Lesson05/TE-02-05-0040.htm.
Risher, Howard. "Fostering a Performance-Driven Culture in the Public Sector." The Public Manager, Vol. 36, No. 3 (2007).
Sirhal, Maureen. "Agency sees gains from telework initiative." Government Executive. April 15, 2003. www.govexec.com/dailyfed/0403/041503td2.htm.
Statement of the Honorable Margaret J. A. Peterlin, Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office before the Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, Postal Service, and the District of Columbia Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, United States House of Representatives. "Telework: Breaking New Ground." November 6, 2007. www.federalworkforce.oversight.house.gov/ documents/20071106134856.pdf.
Stanley Kaczmarczyk is the principal deputy associate administrator, Office of Governmentwide Policy, General Services Administration. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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|Publication:||The Public Manager|
|Article Type:||Brief article|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2008|
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