At a recent town hall meeting on telework, Justin Johnson, deputy chief of staff at the Office of Personnel Management, candidly laid out the reality. "We tend to think of ourselves as one big, happy federal family," he said. But he described telework "an area where competitiveness matters. This is where we're all headed, and people who get there first are going to be more attractive employers."
It has been repeatedly shown in the private sector, and in federal and state governments, that applicants flock to positions that include telework options. Mack Global Consulting, a firm specializing in advising clients on how to plan and implement telework programs, saw a 79 percent increase in applicant responses when a position at one state agency was advertised with the potential to telework. The firm has repeatedly seen organizations draw from a larger and better qualified pool of candidates when telework was mentioned in job postings.
Workers are familiar with the stereotype of managers as the primary roadblocks to increased access to telework opportunities. By embracing it as a valuable tool for recruitment, and by empowering hiring managers to tout the telework opportunities available with various positions, managers can stand out for potential recruits.
OPM is taking the lead in issuing guidance on implementing the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act, which requires agencies, by June 7, to establish a policy on working outside the office, identify eligible employees and inform them of the option to telework. Agencies are also supposed to outline a time frame in which they will alert new hires of their telework eligibility and options.
Of course, not every new recruit and not all job openings lend themselves to telework. And as OPM has explicitly stated, "telework is not an employee right." But the law, and the Obama administration, is giving agencies and managers broad discretion in determining who should be permitted to telework, under what circumstances and how.
Managers should take advantage of that leeway to stand out in the competitive federal job market, and a willingness to discuss telework early, often and in plain language will go a long way. OPM has provided examples of questions managers and employees should address when establishing a telework arrangement. For example, employees should ask about what the expectations are for availability by phone or email, and about who provides technical assistance if something goes wrong with the remote equipment.
In the past, it was risky for a candidate to bring up telework in a job interview. Still, stated or unstated, many potential hires consider the option a substantial draw. How managers respond when these questions do come from job candidates will say a lot to that candidate about the culture of the agency and the manager's attitude about telework.