Personnel chief: Telework makes sense, especially during emergencies

Editor's note: This is the last of four perspectives on telework in the federal government that will appear in the Sept. 1 issue of Government Executive Magazine.

MOBILE WORKDAYS

John Berry
Director
Office of Personnel Management

Since being confirmed as director of OPM in April 2009, John Berry has spoken extensively about the need for telework. Here are some highlights:

  • Telework capabilities are a key aspect in ensuring viable continuity of operations programs, as well as the continuance in an uninterrupted fashion of important government services and functions. OPM has set a strategic goal to increase the number of eligible federal employees who telework by 50 percent from fiscal 2009 to fiscal 2011.
  • We know telework is valuable for the recruitment and retention of employees. We are aware that it mitigates environmental damage from commuter traffic and, lastly, we understand it can help employees balance work and other life responsibilities. However, unless we look at telework as a good business decision, incorporating it as an integral part of doing business in the federal government, we will continue to ignore the one effective and important tool that could make the difference between shutting down federal government services and continuing to operate with minimal interruption in emergency situations. Telework enables business to continue services and operations without jeopardizing the safety of its employees. This is something the president cares about. The response [from the Cabinet secretaries] was, "This makes perfect sense, and we're going to get to work on it." People get it.
  • Strong, consistent [telework] policies are critical to program success. Of course, we are particularly interested in agency expectations with regard to telework during emergency closures. Most policies require teleworkers to fulfill their duties during closures, but also allow for consideration and latitude with regard to child or elder care issues or other personal responsibilities that may occur due to specific circumstances of the closure. We plan to give individual feedback to agencies . . . and will provide guidance on how to better incorporate telework as part of their emergency planning.
  • We are aware that we have many obstacles to overcome in achieving this goal. The results from the 2008 governmentwide annual call for telework data showed that 49 percent of agencies reported that management resistance remains a major barrier to telework. In addition, 32 percent reported that information technology security and IT funding are each significant barriers to the use of telework.
  • I believe we can move telework forward to the point where we never again need to close the federal government for snow emergencies. By creating a mobile workforce, employees will always be able to work regardless of their location. With proper equipment and appropriate emergency planning, we need only to declare a "mobile workday," and the federal government can seamlessly conduct business as usual.
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