Mar 17 2014

Telework Presents Unique Benefits and Challenges to Every Agency

The real challenge with telework, says Citrix’s Andy Banks, is that no two agencies are alike.

The technology needed to make telework a viable option for federal employees is easily accessible. So what’s the holdup?

Culture, leadership and infrastructure are all key to helping telework programs achieve their potential as cost savers and productivity enhancers.

FedTech spoke with Andy Banks, a member of Citrix’s Defense Department team, about the challenges and enticing opportunities surrounding telework.

FEDTECH: What are the biggest challenges with teleworking?

BANKS: The federal government’s biggest challenge in teleworking is fully embracing the change that is needed to make telework successful. We hear often that even though policy allows broader telework participation, there is a cultural divide amongst management that subtly discourages it, and we have consequently seen a low participation rate among employees who are eligible. The term telework often has a negative perception, whereas mobile working while on a business trip often has a positive perception. The principles and technology to enable both are the same, but the connotation still paints an unfair contrast.

From a teleworker’s perspective, there are challenges as well. Finding an environment at home or close to home that is conducive to productivity is only the start. The teleworker must also have immediate access to the tools that they need, such as conference calling, collaboration tools and access to their own data and applications. Frequently, teleworkers must use different technology than is used inside the office just to facilitate telework. The lack of proper training to effectively use these tools results in a frustrating experience. Without all the tools to telework effectively, users will quickly circumvent procedures and possibly create unnecessary risk. This leads to new concerns within the agency, such as sensitive data in personal cloud storage, wasted storage as users e-mail themselves files to work while at home or sensitive data on an easily compromised home computer.

FEDTECH: If you were a federal CIO, what are the first three things you would tackle to implement a telework program?

BANKS: Aside from the obvious analysis and determination of goals, one must consider that telework should boost employee productivity, with side benefits of employee satisfaction and reduced real estate costs.

The first step is to choose a technology strategy that meets the teleworkers’ expectations for productivity. One must work within one’s budget, so selecting a portfolio of technology that provides the greatest flexibility is critical. Allowing users to connect from home to their office computer is a cost-effective alternative to a full-featured virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) solution. Providing remote access to agency-controlled applications is another cost-effective and secure alternative to traditional virtual private networks (VPNs). Teleworkers also need reliable phones, conferencing tools, smart-card readers or other technology in order to use nongovernment-furnished computers. Any technology that is chosen should be thoroughly tested and refined so that teleworkers will have a positive experience.

The second step is to develop a thorough training plan that focuses on teleworking benefits at all management levels. Managers’ acceptance and encouragement for employee participation is vital to its success.

The third step is for the CIO to provide detailed resources and training so that teleworkers understand the technology and procedures. Workers will more likely participate in the program when they can use alternative collaboration tools inside and outside the office. Technical support also must be equipped with the correct tools to assist remote workers long distance.

If you were a federal CIO, what are the first three things you would tackle to implement a telework program?

FEDTECH: The technology for telework is straightforward. What tips can you offer CIOs to help them handle the cultural change?

BANKS: Many organizations fail to measure and communicate the success of the telework program from the teleworker’s perspective. Within Citrix, a company that enables mobile work styles, we encourage managers to use collaboration and remote-access tools in their workday regardless of the location. Managers must be committed to the idea that work is something you do and not somewhere you go.

FEDTECH: What do you think the state of telework in the government will look like in five years?

BANKS: Telework in the government will continue to increase in both participation and acceptance — as long as each agency focuses on the outcome of the effort itself instead of mandates and policy. We will see a larger talent pool as government and contractor jobs move from one-day-per-week telework to several days per week, and even to full-time remote employees. We hope to see participation and eligibility grow dramatically to rival the participation rates in commercial organizations. It is also reasonable to believe that the stigma around telework becomes balanced, and that teleworking is no longer seen as an abuse of taxpayer dollars but instead should be viewed as a standard work option.