Manager buy-in remains the biggest telework challenge

By Rachel Stevens
And Max Cacas
Federal News Radio

With legislation to expand teleworking pending in Congress, and backing from the White House and the Office of Personnel Management, you might think that getting more and more federal workers to do more of their jobs away from their offices might be just around the corner.

But you’d be wrong-at least according to several experts.

Kurt Vondran, a legislative representative for the National Treasury Employees Union, says no matter how many executive orders the White House issues, how many laws Congress passes, or how many well-meaning pronouncements from Cabinet officials, nothing will matter unless agency managers buy-in to the idea that telework is an operational advantage.

And he says NTEU’s efforts to negotiate telework agreements with agencies, such as the IRS, provide a good launch pad for discussions about getting federal managers to say “yes” on telework.

“We had discussions with them over proposals to save space,” says Vondran during a panel discussion on teleworking during a program sponsored by the Coalition for Effective Change, Thursday at the Partnership for Public Service in Washington.

“IRS has well over 600 offices across the country and several overseas. Obviously, the more people who are teleworking, the less space an agency needs.”

Vondran says for agencies where budgetary concerns are paramount, their negotiations have made it possible for savings from telework to be reinvested by the agency into the IT and telecommunications equipment needed for the program.

In recent months, Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry has called telework one of the keys to his effort to revamp how feds do their jobs, calling for a “Results Oriented Work Environment.”

He’s hoping to increase the number of feds teleworking-OPM found recently that 62 percent of eligible employees telework, but less than 6 percent telework even one day a month.

One agency that is held up as the gold standard when it comes to teleworking is the Patent and Trademark Office, where 82 percent of all eligible workers telework in one form or another.

Danette Campbell, senior telework adviser for PTO, says presenting telework as a business strategy is key to winning manager support.

“It’s very helpful, I think, to have an individual within an organization who has a little bit of sales experience, because, basically, you are selling… a program to a manager,” she says. “And you have to point out the pros and the cons and it may make the manager comfortable.”

She suggested agencies create telework pilot programs so managers can “try it before they buy it.”

“I think it’s really helpful to encourage our managers to telework, especially if they’ve never had the experience with it,” Campbell says. “We can take those people who are definitely opposed, so gradually they’re coming around.”

The General Services Administration also has a thriving telework program. It has the second-highest rate of remote work in the government – a little more than 45 percent. Margaret Higgins, manager with GSA’s Telework and Performance Management Program, says a previous administrator went so far as to make handling telework a part of how agency supervisors evaluate mid-level managers.

“We incorporated into our senior leaders’ performance plans an element of support of telework initiatives and participation by their employees into that program,” she says.

NTEU’s Vondran says with the Senate passing a telework enhancement bill, and supporters set to re-introduce the measure in the House after failing to pass it in late May, it’s an ideal time for federal managers who support telework to get the word out.

He urges managers who support teleworking to engage in more peer-to-peer discussions with their more reluctant colleagues, saying that kind of lobbying among mid-level managers is underutilized.


Related link:

  • Partnership for Public Service: “On Demand Government: Deploying Flexibilities to Ensure Service Continuity”

    Rachel Stevens is an intern with Federal News Radio

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