Agency official: Telework programs can succeed with the right tools
Editor's note: This is the third of four perspectives on telework in the federal government that will appear in the Sept. 1 issue of Government Executive Magazine.
Senior Adviser for Telework
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
The Patent and Trademark Office started its telework programs more than 13 years ago with 18 trademark examining attorneys. Today, more than 5,600 employees agencywide work from home at least one day per week. Creating a workforce that can work seamlessly from remote locations, all business units now participate in the telework initiative.
The program is based on a business strategy that supports the agency's mission and goals, with key features that focus on:
- Space and related cost savings, including avoidance of an $11 million expenditure on additional offices
- Comprehensive training programs
- Continuity of operations planning
- Hoteling programs that allow employees to relinquish their office space and work from home four to five days per week
- Reduction of traffic congestion in the Washington region
- Employee work-life balance
- Better employee productivity, satisfaction and retention
PTO has demonstrated telework is successful with the appropriate eligibility criteria, pilot programs, collaboration tools, IT and non-IT training, an enterprisewide policy and business unit guidelines, clear performance measures, and labor-management partnerships.
The agency's telework coordinators working group, which includes representatives from each business unit, meets quarterly. Members gather and report quarterly telework data, including how many positions are eligible for the program, how many employees participate, their grade levels and the number of days per week they telework.
Communication is easier when everyone is in the same location and positioned to take advantage of impromptu meetings, hallway conversations and office debriefs. There can be communication challenges when working and managing in a virtual environment, where there is no hallway, no cafeteria and no central meeting place to have conversations. To improve communication, managers should:
- Host virtual meetings
- Require project updates
- Set up teleconferences and videoconferences
- Use voicemail and e-mail effectively
- Establish a team communication plan
- Build employees' communication skills
PTO designed an intranet to provide telework resources to employees and communicate policies, business unit guidelines and updates on quarterly coordinators' meetings and statistics. The site also includes training materials, ergonomic tips for the home office and answers to frequently asked questions.
To fully reap the benefits of telework, agencies must secure connections between remote workers and offices. Data should be encrypted and stored on an agency server instead of a laptop hard drive. Teleworkers and managers should be well-versed in their agency's information technology and security policies to ensure their work is safe, secure and seamless.