Telework Talk

Corbis

The 2010 Telework Enhancement Act is changing the workplace landscape. As government agencies establish policies for working outside the office, many employees are no longer bound to the standard 40-hour workweek under the same roof as their manager. 

This has its advantages. Telework can improve work-life balance, reduce the need for office space and real estate costs, curb absenteeism, and enhance recruitment and retention. Still, many managers are uncomfortable with this new office culture and worry about productivity. Efforts to manage teleworkers often have not met with great success. The Office of Personnel Management’s 2011 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey found that among 266,000 respondents only 38 percent said they were satisfied with their agency’s telework program. 

There is a happy middle, however, for teleworkers and their bosses. Here are five tips that can take the tension out of teleworking. 

Cover the Basics

Managers and employees both should know the parameters for working off-site—such as who has authority to approve telework and which employees are eligible—and sign agreements. Review agency policies, including terms and conditions, remote transmission of classified and sensitive information, reporting requirements and employee rights. Teleworkers should know what to do in case of emergency and be aware that they may temporarily have expanded roles and responsibilities if their co-workers can’t get into the office. Telework training for employees and managers is available at Telework.gov, an interagency website hosted by OPM and the General Services Administration.

Embrace Technology

Inadequate resources, inferior hardware and software, or lack of technological know-how can torpedo a teleworking arrangement. Managers should have an inventory of their agency’s information technology assets, as well as access to IT staff support. At a minimum, working remotely requires a computer, peripheral equipment such as a printer, copier, scanner, fax machine, telephone, Internet connectivity, secure network access and tech support, according to technology services provider Verizon Wireless. 

GSA has established guidelines for the equipment and support agencies should provide teleworkers. In addition, managers should be well-acquainted with a variety of communication tools, including instant chat, texting, Twitter, email, message boards, social media, and Skype or Google+. Videoconferencing is ideal because it enhances communication and fosters collaboration between remote workers and the office. If it’s not already in place, managers should push for high-quality video capabilities and the bandwidth to support it. 

Check in Regularly

Regular communication ensures everyone is in sync and teleworkers feel connected to their colleagues and agency projects. Frequent check-ins are crucial. Asking questions is a powerful, and often overlooked, communications tool. Managers can use the answers to organize assignments, adjust workflow, and troubleshoot potential problems. 

Make sure on-site employees are communicating effectively with teleworking colleagues. The Veterans Affairs Department, for example, has developed a Microsoft SharePoint website so managers and employees can easily access forms, documentation and updates. In addition, managers should schedule meetings with teleworkers to review any issues related to the telecommuting arrangement. 

Track Performance

No one is sure who said it first, but everyone agrees that what gets measured gets managed. Establish key performance indicators to gauge relevant outputs, service levels, outcomes of program activity and deadlines. Performance standards for off-site employees should be the same as those for on-site employees, according to the Merit Systems Protection Board. The board also recommends that managers give comparable assignments and maintain similar expectations for teleworkers and on-site employees.

Address Problems Immediately

Telework can shine a light on organizational weaknesses that should be addressed. Small issues can snowball and trigger big problems, so managers should be proactive and identify problems, show concern, and be specific and direct with solutions, Telework.gov advises. Provide clear instructions and deadlines, interim updates and regular feedback. Be prepared to enforce and reinforce telework policy to all direct reports. In addition, managers should be able to turn to a guideline in the policy or procedures manual to back up their actions. If a situation escalates, then this may be the time for a face-to-face meeting. 

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