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Telework a ‘Silent Factor’ in New Digital Strategy

Lein de Leon/Shutterstock.com

The White House last week released its long-anticipated digital government strategy, and like many others, I was surprised to see that telework played virtually no role in the plan. Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel earlier this month even hinted that the strategy would include telework as a major component.

But the digital strategy mentions telework only once, in reference to new technologies necessitating updates to telework rules “to allow employees to work from any location, as long as the device and connectivity are appropriately secure.”

Cindy Auten, general manager for Telework Exchange, said Wednesday that while telework was not a component in the strategy, it’s still the underlying factor in any effort to embrace mobile technologies.

“I think it’s the silent factor through it all,” Auten said. “They’re looking at mobility and how it can drive citizen engagement, but I think the underlying theme is how employees are going to work and interact. Telework has a stake in that, whether it’s actually called out or not.”

Agencies that have worked hard on implementing their telework policies under the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act also will see an advantage in meeting the new mandates under the digital strategy, Auten said. “That’s where telework really fits in,” she said. “Those agencies that have telework programs will see an advantage in building out their mobility practices.”

One area the strategy does focus on, however, is the “bring your own device,” or BYOD, concept, which also has implications for federal telework, Auten said. The plan requires agencies to issue a BYOD plan by September that addresses how they can allow federal employees to access their work and agency-built mobile applications from any device.

An April report by Telework Exchange found that agencies that were further ahead on implementing telework programs felt that implementing a BYOD policy would help improve and support their telework model.

But Auten said it’s still a “mixed bag” for agencies in how they are looking at BYOD. “A lot of agencies are sort of dabbling in the waters to see if they can provide BYOD to their full workforce and how they are going to go about handling it,” she said. “I think agencies are adapting to the idea, but security and privacy will be very important.”

Meanwhile, Auten also questioned whether agencies have finally reached the “telework tipping point,” where telework has officially become part of their culture. “I really think that we’re starting to get there from a cultural standpoint and the technology also is supporting that move,” she said. “The demand is there from citizens and employees, so it’s a good thing this strategy came out sooner rather than later.”

(Image via Lein de Leon /Shutterstock.com)

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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