Snow Days: Why the Government Should Prepare for Telework This Winter

Lost productivity costs the government a fortune, but it doesn’t have to.

In 2010, the Washington Post reported that snow days cost the government more than $71 million in lost productivity. Amazingly, this was down from the $100 million per day previously estimated, thanks to the 30 percent of government workers who teleworked during snow days that winter. Washingtonians will remember Snowmageddon for years to come, and so will the government, which has been aggressively pursuing telework for the last few years.

A recent report from Citrix stated that it would cost just $30 million to implement telework governmentwide, less than one-third the cost of a single snow day. Agencies are making progress, but the Old Farmer’s Almanac is calling for more snow than usual this winter. What can agencies do to prepare for remote working this year?

1. Enable workers to be productive by providing the necessary tools.

Today’s workers don’t need expensive hardware or software to work outside the office. If they can’t take their work computers home, it’s likely that most employees have a notebook or a desktop PC at home that can be used to telework.

Focus on software, ideally in the cloud, that can be accessed and used securely from any endpoint. Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps for Government are both great options for document creation and collaboration. Some users may need VPN access in order to work remotely. Have your IT department outfit employees with the software before the snow hits to make sure they can continue their work.

2. Empower employees by trusting them.

Telework is less a technology issue than it is a management issue: It only works if managers trust their employees to be productive without someone looking over their shoulder. For hands-on managers, there are tools available to track employees’ work, but communication such as email and instant messaging should be tried first. It will help both parties if deliverables are clearly identified and protocols for working from home are established early and reviewed often. Check out Telework.gov’s resources for federal managers here.

3. Educate everyone involved to ensure security and productivity.

Education cannot be stressed enough. While all agencies are required to train employees on telework policies, it’s not enough. Users need to have a clear understanding of what they can and can’t do at home in terms of data, downloading and communication. This will be different for every employee, which means managers must regularly discuss security with their teams.

Check out FedTech’s library of telework articles for more information on technology, training and management.

<p>Jonathan Larsen/iStock/Thinkstock</p>

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Dec 13 2013