Recently I started supporting a federal agency where telework is encouraged and systems are in place to enable one or more days a week of teleworking, including providing mobile devices, laptops, Virtual Private Network (VPN) accounts, network drives and a SharePoint platform to facilitate collaboration. This environment was a very pleasant surprise benefit which has reduced the amount of time I spend commuting each week. I have worked with other federal agencies in the past and telecommuting was not so readily available, so I wondered why here and now? And what can managers and their teams do to be successful when working remotely?
Telework Part of Federal Work-Life Push
While adoption of teleworking varies at agencies, it is certainly moving to the top of to-do lists for federal department heads. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) just issued a late-August memorandum with new guidance on “Enhancing Workplace Flexibilities and Work-Life Programs”, including telework. It encourages managers to educate employees and provide opportunities that are appropriate and consistent with agency mission. The guidance resulted from a June 2014 Presidential Memorandum also encouraging these programs and requiring agencies to report on the use of workplace flexibilities within the next few months.
The Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 made it mandatory for federal government agencies to implement telework policies and report on the implementation and utilization of this practice on a yearly basis. The law described telework as: a way to ensure continuity of operations during emergency situations; a strategy to reduce management, environment and transit costs; and an enhancement to work-life balance.
In its 2013 Status of Telework in the Federal Government Report to Congress, OPM reported the following increases from the previous year:
- The number of employees deemed eligible for teleworking increased by 49 percent;
- The number of employees with telework agreements increased by 84 percent; and,
- The number of employees who teleworked in a September-to-September snapshot increased by 24 percent.
Working Remotely – How to Make it Work
Clearly the passage and ongoing implementation of the 2010 Act partly explains the difference in the telework environment that I observed; in addition, as we can all attest, technological advances that support teleworking continue to develop. But teleworking involves more than just having access to the technology. Putting in place the organizational framework and management of telework programs are keys to its success.
Several excellent online resources related to teleworking are:
- The GovLoop Guide: Agency of the future – Telework
- GovLoop’s infograph How Telework Makes Better Bosses and Top-notch Teams
- OPM’s Managing Telework Requires Topnotch Performance Management Skills
Like many people, I’ve worked on teams where people are spread out in different offices and states. Many of the same approaches to working with far-flung team members can be applied to telework. My top four areas to address for successful teleworking are:
- I meet weekly with my manager, either face-to-face or by teleconference to review ongoing tasks and strategize on how to address any challenges. I prepare an agenda and minutes for each of these meetings
- I keep my manager in the loop on a daily basis by copying her on email traffic or sending a quick email summary
- Since I’m not physically in the office five days a week, I include my signature block on all emails to ensure if anyone needs to reach me, my information is readily available
- Knowing that colleagues can’t always walk around the corner to find me, I respond promptly to all voicemails and emails
- Clearly defining expectations, hours and assignments provides a framework for me and others working remotely
- As both an employee and a Team Leader, I recognize the importance of measuring progress to ensure programs stay on track. As goals are achieved, managers are more likely to trust the telework approach
- Technological advances have made telework increasingly effective. Make a point of learning how to use the technology provided to support teleworking i.e. VPN, mobile telephone, SharePoint collaboration platform, and web meetings. Ask for training or help train other members of your team
How is your organization approaching telework? Share your pointers for success in the comments section.