The goal of the Environmental Protection Agency’s telework program is to have users “work at home like they work at work,” EPA’s Vaughn Noga said recently.
To achieve that goal, agencies rely on technologies such as virtualization and on management strategies that help to ensure that users and managers maximize productivity, Noga and other IT officials said during the recent FedTech webinar “Boosting Telework with VDI.”
EPA has about 18,000 workers at 110 locations, and it is expanding its telework efforts. Previously, the agency supported only remote workers who could connect directly to the EPA network, but implementing a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is allowing the agency to expand remote access.
Noga, director of EPA’s Office of Technology Operations and Planning, said the agency is shifting its security emphasis from protecting devices to protecting information. Client virtualization lets the agency provide access to data anywhere, but the data itself remains on secure EPA servers.
EPA tested client virtualization a year ago with users who needed plenty of processing power for resource-hungry geospatial information applications. The agency found that VDI worked as well as when the processing was done on users’ desktop computers, Noga said. The pilot also revealed that client virtualization reduced power consumption, lowered technology refresh costs by extending the useful life of the hardware, and improved IT management by allowing the IT staff to conduct software maintenance on a single server rather than having to update numerous individual desktops.
The Census Bureau also is implementing a VDI in an effort to expand telework, said Census CIO Brian McGrath. In July, Census completed a pilot to roll out virtual desktops to 100 users. “For us, VDI is more than just telework,” McGrath said. “It’s a way that we’re going to provide IT resources.”
Census plans to expand its VDI program to 1,500 users next year, and the agency intends to build enough flexibility into the program to allow it to scale to as many as 6,000 users, McGrath said.
Ultimately, agencies get out of telework what they put into it. “We put a lot of work into our telework experience. It’s a lot of commitment, and that commitment comes right from the top here at the Patent and Trademark Office ” said Rod Turk, PTO’s chief information security officer, during the webinar.
PTO’s telework program is among the oldest and most successful in the government. The program began in in the 1990s and has grown to include more than 6,400 teleworkers (out of 7,800 eligible workers in the agency), with many working remotely on a full-time basis.
“We treat telework as a project management exercise,” said Turk. PTO has an extensive training process for teleworkers and has established detailed processes for them to follow. Not only must candidates complete training before they are allowed to telework, but their supervisors also must complete training for managing teleworkers.
The agency provides an extensive set of hardware that teleworkers use, including computers and high-end monitors. It also provides collaboration software that lets remote users communicate directly with patent applicants.
PTO also demands high standards from its teleworkers. To qualify for telework, employees must meet performance requirements, and once they begin telework, they must continue to reach their performance goals to remain eligible.
Telework success also requires practice, Noga says. Users who regularly work from home generally perform better than remote workers who do so on an emergency basis, he said.