Telework pace picks up at National Science Foundation

The telework program at the National Science Foundation is winning support from managers, and participation among employees is on the rise, according to a report released last week by the Telework Exchange.

"We haven't taken a hard-sell approach; it's like, 'Try it, you'll like it,'" said Sue Whitney, labor relations officer and telework coordinator at the agency. "We let people ease into it, and I think letting people start out as a situational or ad hoc teleworker lets them get comfortable with the technology."

The Telework Exchange surveyed 1,200 NSF employees, and found that 51 percent of them work remotely, 32 percent on a regular basis. Fifty-five percent telework one to five times a month; 19 percent, six to 10 days; 15 percent, 11 to 15 days; and 11 percent, more than 15 days.

All NSF employees are eligible to telework, though the program is voluntary, Whitney said. The director and deputy director also have telework programs on file as part of the agency's continuity of operations plan and to set a model for employees.

Not only is telework spreading among rank-and file employees, but managers are working remotely in large numbers as well, the survey found. Sixty-seven percent of managers who oversee teleworkers work remotely, and 84 percent of managers overall view telework positively for its flexibility.

Perhaps most significant, 87 percent of managers who oversee teleworkers said productivity remained the same or improved when employees worked remotely. Sixty-six percent of managers said it was not difficult for them to evaluate teleworkers' performance.

Whitney said providing managers with information and the option to telework helped win their respect for the program early on. "When we instituted the policy, I went out and did a lot of briefings, and I still do briefings at staff meetings," she said. "I think one of the biggest pluses is that our policy is very open and we opened it up to managers right from the start."

Whitney also noted that the American Federation of Government Employees local that represents NSF workers supported the rollout of the telework program, and that collaboration built trust between the union and the agency.

"Telework was one of the first areas we tackled when I became the labor relations officer, and I think it did establish that we could be successful, and trust each other, and work together," she said. "The union encourages [telework] at their monthly meetings or their one-on-one meetings with employees. We can talk to managers or employees who have concerns."

Whitney said that while NSF is small and most of its employees are familiar and comfortable with the technology that makes telework possible, other agencies can still learn from its experiences in rolling out its program.

"We haven't mandated it, we haven't said everyone has to do 10 percent of their workers," she said. "But it's spreading across the agency because it works, and it improves productivity and it improves people's lives.

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