Jul 29 2010

Moving Past Telework Phobias

Are you really working when you’re not in the office? Can you prove it?

As a former fed and now community manager for GovLoop, a social network for government employees, I’ve teleworked for the past five years. My work is largely web-based, so I can do my job from wherever I find Internet access. Mostly, I work from home, but I’ve been “on the job” in coffee shops, cabs — even boats.

Most bosses might question the productivity and availability of an employee like me. Let’s face it: Supervisors fear that employees who work from home are mowing the lawn or watching TV rather than putting in a full, productive day of work.

That’s why I believe the question, “Are you really working when you’re not in the office?” is the critical barrier to implementing telework more broadly in government. Recently, I challenged members of GovLoop (which connects more than 30,000 people in and around government) to suggest ways to ensure that employees are working when not in the office.

1: Get their John or Jane Hancock.

Supervisors can establish clear parameters for teleworkers through “a telecommute agreement,” suggested Tricia, a human resources manager with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. If an agreement stipulates an employee “will respond, return or check for messages at least once an hour, I would expect them to get back to that person.”

Caveat: Be definitive as to what are considered fair expectations: “Is there a similar agreement for how frequently a non-telecommuter must respond?” wondered Lisa Rosser, a military hiring expert. “If a worker is in an office and not replying quickly enough, a supervisor can walk over and see that he or she is [at] the computer and will assume he or she is grinding away at something work-related. But if the telecommuter isn’t responding, the first assumption is that he or she is out goofing off.”

2: Measure results against milestones.

Bill Brantley, an HR specialist for the Office of Personnel Management, suggested another practical way to create a performance-based environment: “As a project manager, I have a list of tasks, a schedule and a budget. If team members deliver their tasks on time and within budget, should I care how they did it (as long as no laws were broken and they suffered no harm in delivering their tasks)?”

To read more responses to Krzmarzick’s GovLoop query, go to fedtechmagazine.com/

Work rarely ever fills 100 percent of a workday, Brantley pointed out. It varies by day, but on average equals the 100 percent capacity you seek in an employee. “When you hire motivated self-starters, you won’t have to worry about keeping them busy. If they have a clear goal, they will measure their own performance.”

3: Be willing to revoke the privilege (or even the job).

Too often, people think of telework as a novel initiative for government, but it really boils down to trust and hard work, HP’s Christina Morrison said. “What happened to old-fashioned work ethics? If you don’t do your job, you won’t have one much longer — no matter where you work.”

For most, it’s about clear performance measurement. “The challenge is getting the right metrics,” noted Robert Watts of the State Department’s Office of eDiplomacy. “Excessive metrics and micro-goals can show a lack of trust — a virtual ‘short leash.’ ”

Federal Contract Specialist Amanda Blount summarized the conversation. “Manager: Set goals. Employee: Make a plan, present it to the manager and meet goals. If things happen, get with manager, revisit the plan, continue on mission. Mission accomplished.”

Most of the time, that mission can be accomplished from anywhere — even from a boat.

<p>Photo: Forrest MacCormack</p>

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