Workplace flexibility program moves full-speed ahead

The Office of Personnel Management's Workforce Flexibility Initiative pilot program will kick into full gear beginning in June, an OPM official told lawmakers on Tuesday.

Under the Results-Only Work Environment program, nearly 400 OPM employees from a range of job functions will be permitted to work wherever and whenever they choose as long as their work gets done. Supervisors will be expected to "manage for results" and trust employees to complete their tasks.

"This is a shift in culture from permission granting -- granting leave, permission to telework, etc. -- to performance guiding," said Jonathan Foley, senior adviser to the director, during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee hearing.

Officials announced the program on March 31 and it has been in the assessment and education phases since. The two contractors OPM hired to implement and evaluate the initiative have been visiting participating offices in Boyers, Pa., and Washington conducting surveys, focus groups and job shadowing.

This month, OPM and the contractors will work on the logistics and begin to lead the cultural shift toward ROWE principles.

Joseph Flynn, national vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees, told the subcommittee the union is excited by the pilot program and the Local 32 chapter has been working closely with OPM to implement it. Flynn said one of the groups selected to participate has had major workload processing problems for some time, and under the program, management and labor forums have been established to address these problems.

"Local 32 can already see that preparing this group to participate in the ROWE pilot has driven the resolution of some of the issues raised by the union this past year," Flynn said. "We believe that if the ROWE pilot works with this particular work group, it can work within any other offices."

Max Stier, president of the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, urged OPM to combine the pilot program with "solid data-gathering protocols" to ensure that the agency understands what works and can replicate it.

Several senators and witnesses extolled the virtues of telework and other flexible work arrangements during the hearing. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, said these benefits are crucial to attract the next generation of federal employees.

"Younger workers may have different work expectations than previous generations and may value workplace flexibility more than traditional fringe benefits," Akaka said. "Work-life programs help agencies compete in the marketplace."

Foley said OPM's data analysis team estimated that 30 percent of federal employees who teleworked during the February snow storms in Washington offset about $30 million daily in lost productivity.

National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley said successes at several agencies already have proved the benefits of telework, and those that are doing it well should play the role of ambassadors and speak to others about how they did and how it has benefited both employees and employer.

Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, said that among the most important elements of these programs is ensuring they can provide savings for the taxpayer and communicating those savings.

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