Telework is one of the latest crazes to hit the government. Telework sites are being okayed for some 3-letter agencies. Currently, VPNs are accessible, and capable ways of enabling telework, but even if the technology is available, what are the cultural changes necessary? Allan Holmes of Government Executive, Max Chafkin of Inc. Magazine, Danette Campbell of the US PTO and Justin Johnson of the US OPM all got together to discuss this topic.
Justin started off the discussion with a “state of the union” of telework. OPM provides a lot of guidance and coordination, they try to persuade other agencies to do the right thing. In general, people treat telework as a perk (a benefit) as opposed to a strategy to accomplish work. Over 100k employees are teleworking 1-day a month or more (which is actually a low number considering the size of the Federal Government). 48% don’t telework because of their duties or because they don’t want to. However, 30% are finding themselves prevented from teleworking because they are not allowed, even though they could accomplish their job teleworking. This creates a lot of room for growth. The biggest mentality shift the OPM is trying to affect is that telework is a way to enable more mission completion, rather than less.
Danette of US PTO is the leader of the premiere teleworking program in the Federal Government. The US PTO has 5k + employees working at least 1 day a week from home. There are over 300 employees who have completely relinquished their offices in Alexandria. The US PTO has highlighted telworking as a strategy to get work done. It is not a carrot, but rather a way to conserve resources. The US PTO provides VoIP technologies which enables employees to telework more efficiently.
Max had been researching organizations and startups of groups rather than individuals who teleworked by accident. Unlike the government, these workers were doing it because it’s what they can afford. Small businesses and startups can save money on overhead by using teleworking. Teleworkers are enabling communication through Skype, Google Talk, Facebook, and Twitter to name a few.
Telework enables flexibility and agile government, as well as cuts down on unnecessary meetings. When a business unit has a large number of teleworking employees, leadership has to think twice about calling meetings every 15 minutes (a la Michael Scott of “The Office”). Telework cuts down on commuting hours, which encourages workers and can provide familial benefits as well. There are so many ancillary benefits to telework, but until it is seen as a business strategy by management, it will not receive wide acceptance.