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Practical advice for federal leaders on managing people, processes and projects.

Talking Telework

Given the uncertainty and apprehension caused by the chatter surrounding federal pay and benefits, agency leaders should be particularly mindful of this year's Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, especially the engagement and work-life indicators -- including telework. During the past five years employee satisfaction with telework arrangements at their agencies has hovered around 37 percent, and this year's survey is likely to tell a similar story.

Chief human capital officers and newly designated telework managing officers must make a concerted effort to implement the necessary tools, strategies and policies in a practical manner to improve telework practices. This workplace flexibility can help agencies retain top talent during tight budgets.

Fortunately, the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act could serve as a tipping point for changing the culture, perception and practices of working remotely that have perplexed executives, managers and employees alike.

Based on the law's requirements, employees should know by now whether they are eligible to work from home or a satellite office. As the weeks unfold, employees and their supervisors should discuss the structure of telework arrangements by asking the following:

How much teleworking is appropriate?

Even if an employee, or a position, is deemed "telework eligible," the approach might not be a good fit for everyone. Managers should determine the personal preferences of their teams by asking employees how they view telework. Would they be happy and productive working remotely? Employee satisfaction is directly related to retention and performance. It is in the agency's best interest to determine the right frequency of teleworking for each employee.

Do offices have a framework for performance?

If teleworking is the right option, then managers and employees must discuss ways to ensure productivity. The law requires a written agreement between them before a new telework arrangement can begin. Setting clear objectives and reviewing performance on a regular basis can foster a trusting environment and assure managers that employees can be productive working off-site.

To help managers and employees navigate the steps to establishing a positive work arrangement, the agency's telework managing officer should provide guidance and training, especially on how to write clear performance objectives. How can teleworkers mitigate potential morale issues?

As telework agreements become widespread, agency leaders must understand the impact on morale, especially in offices where only some employees are eligible to telework. Managers should guard against dividing the workforce into a subculture of "haves" versus "have-nots." Sensitivity to these dynamics can ensure there is no major impact on morale or performance.

To help ease any potential tension, employees who work remotely should consider how their new work arrangements could affect their colleagues. Teleworkers should discuss their new schedule with co-workers and make every effort to facilitate the transition. If one person is off-site, then other team members must adjust their working styles and use new technology. Employees who telework should understand this and be responsive and flexible to the needs of their colleagues.

With the right framework and focus, a telework program can produce dramatic results. But the long-term impact of teleworking should not be based solely on the number of employees participating. Instead, agency leaders should watch survey results and performance trends to understand the benefits this workplace flexibility is having on morale, engagement and mission accomplishment.

John Salamone, former executive director of the Chief Human Capital Officers Council, is managing consultant at Federal Management Partners Inc. Crystal Irish Rogall is a consultant at FMP specializing in strategic planning and performance management.

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