Mar 06 2020

Telework Can Help Agencies Keep Running as More Workers Go Remote

Federal agencies are taking differing approaches to telework tools, but OPM has advised agencies to make sure their workforces are ready to engage in remote work.

As the federal government marshals a public health response to the novel coronavirus, other government agencies are focusing on how they can maintain a continuity of operations via telework. 

“Agencies also need to implement and maintain a robust information technology system with the necessary infrastructure to accommodate widespread remote usage of agency systems as well as the accompanying technical support personnel to resolve remote connectivity issues,” notes a memo released last month from the Chief Human Capital Officers Council, a unit of the Office of Personnel Management.

The CHCOC called on agencies to “maximize their telework capacity by entering into telework agreements with as many telework-eligible employees as possible and by conducting exercises to test employees’ ability to access agency networks from home.”

OPM notes in the coronavirus guidance that “telework is a critical tool during emergency situations” and that it “has strongly encouraged agencies to maintain a viable telework-ready workforce.” Another OPM report notes telework enables agencies to carry out their responsibilities during emergencies that prevent employees from reaching home offices.

How Telework Is Playing Out for Agencies

Emergencies are the primary reason that most federal employees use telework, and robust remote work programs have numerous benefits. 

Key pieces of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s telework program include video cameras, which allow face-to-face interaction among distant workers, as well as teleconferencing tools such as Cisco’s WebEx and Jabber. Other agencies use devices such as Microsoft Surface and Lenovo ThinkPad tablet-style computers to keep employees connected when working remotely. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health issued a joint statement last month in the wake of a report from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci and other federal scientists, also encouraging telework. 

“Given the apparent efficiency of virus transmission, everyone should be prepared for COVID-19 to gain a foothold throughout the world, including in the United States,” the NIH and CDC wrote. “If the disease begins to spread in U.S. communities, containment may no longer be a realistic goal and response efforts likely will need to transition to various mitigation strategies, which could include isolating ill people at home, closing schools and encouraging telework.”

READ MORE: Discover how mobile technology helps FEMA respond to disasters. 

This week, the Department of Homeland Security announced that its office in King County, Wash., will be closed for two weeks following the discovery of an employee who apparently contracted the coronavirus after visiting a relative at the nearby Life Care Center nursing facility, which has become a focal point of the outbreak in the United States, CNN reports.

DHS direct employees to self-quarantine for two weeks while the office is cleaned. 

“We ask those who are able to work, who perhaps aren’t showing symptoms and aren’t sick, if they’re able to telework, please do so,” Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf told the House Committee on Homeland Security this week, according to Federal News Network. “If you don’t have the ability to work or you haven’t gone through that certification process through the department, then you’re not going to telework. We’re not going to force you to telework in those cases.”

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