Telework: Destroying the village to save it?

Teleworking is a lot like Brussels sprouts or kale. You either love it or you hate it.

Most teleworkers say the ability to work from home is good for them, good for the climate and is a force multiplier in many ways. Not to mention it saves government money. And that during emergencies — from a terrorist attack to major weather event — permits agencies to carry on their work.

Many feds who don’t telework say it makes it too easy for people to do everything — babysit, shop, sleep, binge watch TV, work a second job — except for their real job.

The Social Security Administration is the latest federal operation to announce it is ending teleworking for 11,000 to 12,000 workers in its operating component. Originally set to end Nov. 8, that date has been pushed ahead to Nov. 22, by which time there could be a government shutdown. The delay is presumably to give employees long-accustomed to working 1-3 days per week from home time to change gears. In 2018, the Departments of Agriculture and Education limited teleworking to once a week. Earlier this year Health and Human Services did the same thing for its Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health. Many other agencies that still have 415,000 teleworkers are now reviewing their programs. And none have expansion in mind!

Last week we asked people what they think of teleworking and if cutbacks are being done to give taxpayers more bang for their buck — or is this a way to punish “unresponsive” bureaucrats? Lots of traffic. Here are some of them:

-”As a federal employee with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, I have some thoughts about teleworking within agencies I have worked within the federal government. While working under a US Army major command, we were allowed to telework one day per week. In order to verify that workers actually did work at home they required them to provide a list of activities performed that day. I cannot attest to whether these employees “stretched”, lied, or told the truth about their efforts, but I do know that many of my non-teleworking colleagues just treated teleworkers as if “being off”. I do not have a problem with teleworking, as long as there is some level of oversight. If they are truly able to “work better” at home than they should have no problem providing a report on the work performed at home. I am actually allowed to participate in the program as well, but I see some glaring problems with it.” –Northern Virginia

-“1. Teleworkers seem distant – this draws a sharp divide into various team building and team dynamics. 2. Little to no oversight – legally you cannot work hours you are not paid for, nor can you get paid for hours you do not work. 3. Home distractions – There are distractions in the office and at home, but at least in the office those distractions are the responsibility of the agency. If you are distracted by an unruly child, poor network connection, or inconsistent home office equipment, there is nothing the agency can do to remedy that.

Due to these issues, I do not choose this facet of work, except on the occasion of being sick and being able to still attend an important meeting. In this occasion I would just put in the hours I worked, for example a two hour meeting with six hours of sick leave.”

”I am a federal employee and telework 2 days one week and 1 day the following week. I don’t believe that teleworking decreases productivity because all federal employees have a standard they have to follow to be successful so if the employee is at home or in the office and are not meeting their work standards then that is an issue the supervisor should be addressing to the employee. Management doesn’t like teleworking because they are not allowed to telework. They make the big bucks to manage and that is what they should be doing, managing. Employees know If their performance or productivity decreases after they begin teleworking, their telework privilege will be suspended. With modern technology, management can track an employees productivity while they are home working especially if the employee is a customer service representative that receives telephone calls all day from the public. –M.N.

-”There is no reason telecommuting cannot work. Technology exists that can timestamp everything a worker does. One of my teaching positions is a good example. My school pays by the hour, so I clock in via a virtual time clock. Then I log into the teaching platform, where every message I send is time-stamped, every assignment I grade is time-stamped. We use a virtual phone system, where every call is not only time-stamped, but also recorded. There’s more, but you get the idea, I’m sure. They know how productive I am when I’m on the clock.

My other two schools pay by the student. They can also see every email, phone call, graded assignment and feedback, but they don’t care if it takes me 5 hours or 1, as long as I do quality work.

“These agencies need to either become a quality driven employer, like the last two, or employ technology that “watches” like the first. I will admit that I love my job at the two quality-geared schools and only tolerate the “Big Brother” one, as it’s worth the price to pay to be able to work in front of the fireplace or on the deck. I do equally as good a job at all. Thank you for the platform to voice my opinion.“ –Anita S.

-“I have friends who are government workers who ‘telework.; They go to doctor appointments, paint their houses, run errands on taxpayers’ dime. Iwork in private industry and cannot telework—have 70 hour long weeks and commute 150 miles a day. Oh, the retirement annuities they boast of are ridiculous while so many of us cannot afford to retire.” –Jeanette R.

“I am a retired SSA employee who teleworked one day a week. I loved it. Complete peace and quiet. No conversations, no phones ringing. And doing my casework at home was serving my beneficiaries. I was not in an office who served the public face to face so my entire day consisted of working my workload which impacted beneficiaries.” –Mary S.

-“I am a federal employee—an attorney and a union officer who participated in negotiations for telework at my agency. I would prefer to remain anonymous because our agency managers are known to retaliate, and the agency suffers from low morale. In addition, our agency does not allow employees to speak to the press.

“Our bargaining unit is currently allowed to telework two times per week. We also have a variety of flexible work options, including a 4/10 schedule which allows an employee to work four ten-hour days per week, as well as an option for one off day per pay period. The programs have increased employee morale and productivity. It has been our experience that telework failures are most often management failures. Those managers that don’t know whether their employers are doing their work would not be any more aware if the employees were in the office. We had an employee that didn’t come to work for days at a time and the manager didn’t figure it out—the union did and worked with management to solve the problem. That manager has been promoted twice since that resolution. In addition, managers hold a grudge because they have no official program in place, although we have found that managers use telework in ways our bargaining unit does not. For example, the program expressly prohibits using telework for child care. However, one teleworking manager repeatedly called into meetings with children screaming in the background. It amazes me that management failures are given as reasons to eliminate successful programs that reduce traffic on the road, improve commute issues, and promote work/life balance. Also, I am horrified at agencies that are simply eliminating programs without considering employee bargaining rights. This is a sad time for federal employees. Public service workers are being berated and demoralized more and more, and most federal employees that I know work very hard as public servants and we continue to be kicked in the teeth for taking this path. “ –B.W.

-“Teleworking 2 days a week here at EPA allowed me to be more productive (I worked 10 hour days), I was able to have every Monday off so we could take our special needs child to therapy in Baltimore, and took my car off the road 2 days a week. The agency admitted there was no study when they said it would be more efficient to be in the office 4 days a week. It’s being done by an administration that is single handedly dismantling the government – and no one is paying attention. Seriously EPA- how is adding thousands of cars back on the road good for the environment and reducing our carbon footprint? It has nothing to do with customer service and everything to do with helping businesses over the safety and security of the public and employees.” –Dave

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Alazar Moges

“When in Rome.” You have probably heard that saying in your lifetime. Probably many times. But not everyone gets a chance to ever visit the famous Italian city — and technically speaking, they don’t need to. In the United States alone you could visit Rome, Wisconsin. Or maybe even Rome, Illinois. There are five states in the country — New York, Maine and Georgia being the others — that have a city named Rome in them.

Sources: GeoDatos

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