Managers still tepid about telecommuting

klunney@govexec.com

Most federal managers are "totally disinterested" in the concept of flexiplace, despite interest from many of the employees they manage, according to a new report. The report, Managing Telecommuting in the Federal Government, was issued by the PricewaterhouseCoopers Endowment for the Business of Government.

Employees who telecommute said they enjoy the convenience, feel like they have more independence and believe they are more productive, according to the report. But they also reported feeling isolated from co-workers and complained about problems with providing their own work equipment, such as computers, software and phone lines.

Growing problems with traffic congestion, environmental concerns, and a greater focus on quality-of-life issues have made telecommuting a popular work alternative in government. According to an October 1999 General Services Administration report, about 26,000 federal employees work at home or at off-site offices, such as suburban telecommuting centers. The Treasury, Defense, Health and Human Services, and Labor departments have the most telecommuters.

A 1998 study by the Office of Personnel Management found that the majority of federal telecommuters are at the GS-12 and above levels. The work most suitable for telecommuting usually requires independent thinking, researching and writing, OPM found.

Authors Gina Vega, assistant professor of management at Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass., and Louis Brennan, a senior lecturer in business studies at the University of Dublin, said self-disciplined and independent employees are the best candidates for telecommuting. In supervising such workers, managers must take risks, trust employees to be productive outside of their immediate supervision and manage by results.

"Instead of demanding greater effort from employees, it is the responsibility of the teleworking manager to design new routes of success for teleworkers. Managers must not simply withdraw from view when the worker telecommutes, but must maintain an active role in assuring the worker's success in an autonomous location," the report said.

While telecommuting is often treated simply as an employee perk, Vega and Brennan emphasized that it also benefits management. "The telework initiative was introduced as a management benefit since teleworking is implemented as a management option," the report said.

Vega and Brennan suggested that agencies interested in telecommuting consult the Labor Department's manual on flexible workplaces as a guide.

Managing Telecommuting in the Federal Government and other PricewaterhouseCoopers Endowment reports are available at endowment.pwcglobal.com.

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