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Making Telework Work

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The Veterans Affairs Department is doing all it can to enable suitable employees to telework at least two days a week, two officials said, countering recent Congressional Research Service criticism of the agency’s high rates of telework ineligibility and lack of justification for such rates.

"When you look at taking telework through our organization, it can be an amazing challenge," said Deborah Munn, VA's telework managing officer. "Over 90 percent of our population is in the Veterans Health Administration, which provides a lot of hands-on care. A lot of positions are just not suitable for telework."

In a webinar Thursday sponsored by Telework Exchange, Munn and Tonya Mixson, telework program manager for VA's central office, said the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act led to the creation of a pilot program within VA's central office to enable employees to telework at least two days per week. In 2011, the program increased the number teleworkers in the central office from 5 percent to 13 percent; the program plans to raise that rate further to 29 percent by fiscal 2014, Mixson said.

VA also has developed a telework SharePoint website, where managers and employees can access forms, documentation and all updates on telework implementation. The agency also held a telework summit and invited other agencies, managers and employees to share best practices on telework.

The agency also has put together training modules on performance management and mobility tools, and is developing a system to evaluate VA's telework readiness. "Even if employees aren't teleworking at this point, we at least want to get people up to the point where they are telework-ready," Mixson said.

Munn said the move to increase telework has required a major culture shift, particularly for employees who are used to having an office or cubicle. Those teleworking two or more days per week have only a small "touchdown" station of roughly 50 square feet at the office, Munn said. "You're talking about people getting used to very different usage of work space," she said.

Meanwhile, webinar participants indicated that agencies are making some progress on telework implementation. When asked whether their agency's IT infrastructure is telework-ready, 33 percent said yes, while 46 percent said a portion was ready. Ten percent said the infrastructure was not ready, and 12 percent were unsure.

When asked about telework training, 58 percent of webinar participants said their agencies provide telework training to managers, while 28 percent said no and 21 percent were unsure.

Reporter Portrait for GovernmentExecutive.com

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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