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Moving to Telework

This summer, more than 4,700 workers at the Defense Information Systems Agency will be relocating from Northern Virginia to the agency's new location in Ft. Meade, Md. Thanks to telework, many of them will not have to up and move their families in exchange for a shorter commute. Jack Penkoske, director of manpower, personnel and security at DISA, told Wired Workplace that DISA's decision to move to Ft. Meade meant that 75 percent of DISA's workforce living in Northern Virginia faced lengthy commutes. Retaining those employees was key, he said, so the agency looked to its already robust telework program. DISA's telework program, which started in 2005, first allowed employees to telework up to one day per pay period. Now employees who receive supervisory approval can telework up to three days per week, and DISA will pay for up to 50 percent of the high speed Internet in their homes. The robust program means that 60 percent of employees are teleworking on any given day, Penkoske said. "We hear a lot of the time that workers come to DISA because of telework and stay because of the opportunity to telework," Penkoske said. "You see a trend where in the old days, employees would negotiate pay. Now some say, 'I'll stay if you can allow me to telework.'" DISA's telework initiative did require some culture shift among managers who were not comfortable with their lack of control over an employee's productivity or performance while outside the office, Penkoske said. "To that we'd say, 'well, how do you measure what they're doing when they're sitting in their cubicle?'" he said. "If you have good performance standards, it will transfer anywhere." Last year, President Obama signed into law the Telework Enhancement Act, which makes federal employees presumptively eligible to telework and requires all agencies to establish telework policies in consultation with the Office of Personnel Management. It also requires agencies to designate a telework managing officer and ensure that telework is part of its continuity of operations planning. Agencies are required to meet those requirements by June 9. Penkoske said DISA is far ahead of schedule in meeting the June 9 deadline. The key to achieving this goal, he said, was first establishing a "telework SWAT team" of human resources and information technology personnel. The team created a policy where all new computers would be telework-compatible and also established a classified telework center in Woodbridge, Va., to help accommodate employees who needed to work on a classified network, Penkoske said. "We'd hope in the not-too-distant future, we won't even use the word telework," he said. "We'll just refer to it as work."
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Brittany Ballenstedt writes Nextgov's Wired Workplace blog, which delves into the issues facing employees who work in the federal information technology sector. Before joining Nextgov, Brittany covered federal pay and benefits issues as a staff correspondent for Government Executive and served as an associate editor for National Journal's Technology Daily. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Mansfield University and originally hails from Pennsylvania. She currently lives near Travis Air Force Base, Calif., where her husband is stationed.

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