Nov 04 2009

Telework or Work Anywhere?

Official telework programs edge upward gradually as agencies adopt the view that the "office" is wherever the work is.

Official telework figures gathered by the Office of Management and Budget paint a rather dim picture of the mobile federal workforce: The increase in designated teleworkers since the last report was sent to Congress in 2008 is only a bit more than 8 percent.

But that number, from the OPM 2009 report, could be misleading, according to the comments of federal IT chiefs and managers.

“Our agents want to be able to do their jobs wherever they are,” says Noah Nason, chief of the Information Services Division for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “Telework for us was not so much at home but onsite, in the field.”

That’s increasingly true for many agencies, and so the notion of the “official teleworker” may need some fine-tuning.

At a recent Telework Exchange conference, Vaughn Noga, acting director of technology operations and planning for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Information, pointed out that when thinking about telework, you have to take the main office workers, remote office workers and field workers all into account. The technology strategy implemented must stretch across these scenarios.

“People get pulled into the idea that one size fits all, but it’s not true,” Noga says. The type of telework requirements, the level of security and the access to applications will vary depending on the workers and what they need to do when they’re not in the office, he says.

“We want you to work at home like you work at work,” Noga says. “That’s really the vision that we have.”

To that end, OPM Director John Berry is promoting telework and remote work options generally as part of new initiatives that he unveiled this week to improve federal human resources operations. Telework options would be part of what Berry calls a “results-only work environment.”

When he sent the 2009 telework report to Congress in late summer, Berry noted that the government has significant work to do in developing a telework culture. He has created an advisory group of officials from agencies with progressive programs with the aim of fostering similar initiatives and standards policies across government.

Although technology and security were cited as hurdles by 25 of the 78 agencies included in the OPM survey of telework practices, the chief issues were unrelated to IT: Forty-eight agencies cited office coverage as an obstacle, and 38 cited management resistance.

Berry’s aim is to reach a point where most feds work from home at least one day a week. Government can then achieve productivity and green benefits, as well as the capability to implement telework in an emergency situation, such a flu pandemic or natural disaster.





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