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How information technology is changing the landscape for federal employees.

The Next Big Telework Thing: Better Tallies

Telework has been a hot topic, particularly with the release of the Office of Personnel Management’s telework status report, which marked the first real measure of federal telework since passage of a 2010 law on it. And now that we know the percentage of federal teleworkers has more than doubled since the law was enacted, what’s the next big buzzword for federal telework?
According to Tom Simmons, vice president for federal systems and Citrix, the next steps for telework focus particularly on effective tracking and reporting. Indeed, OPM announced just this week it will automate the way it collects and provides statistics on telework.
“They’re relying on manual reporting from the teleworker,” Simmons said of the recent report. “Any time you’re relying on individual behavior in an environment that’s likely new to someone, the ability to capture good and reliable data is challenged.”
Simmons noted that government has done a great job at automating the time and attendance system but said any measure of telework success should rely less on how many hours a teleworker is putting in at home and more on the output and quality of the work they do. “When government tries to measure something, they measure what they’re used to measuring – that’s time and attendance,” he said.
So how might agencies better measure telework success? Simmons recommends they look to the technology they’ve already implemented for telework – notably virtual computing, voice over Internet protocol services and other collaboration tools – to measure telework use against the automated time and attendance tools they’ve been using for years.

Still, measuring telework success will have to go beyond simply quantifying the amount of hours a teleworker is putting in, Simmons said. “If we’re just trying to measure time and attendance, there’s going to be resistance because managers are going to look at the tracker and not trust it or believe that an employee’s motivated at some level to work around the measures,” he said. “A cultural shift will have to take place if telework is going to be successful at the employee level and the managerial level.”
It’s the cultural challenges that are the main reason OPM found that just 1 in 4 employees who are eligible to telework actually do so, Simmons said. At the same time, he added, those cultural barriers are likely to soften up as the younger generation enters the federal workforce and moves up in the ranks.
“The overall culture of government needs to change to where work is not a place you go, but something you do,” Simmons said. “Too much of today’s traditional government managerial approach is that I’m only working when I’m sitting at my desk in the office. We need to change that to a world where, as an employee, I’m able to do my work from anywhere.”
Meanwhile, OPM’s recent report noted that 12 out of the 14 agencies surveyed cited technology as one of the top inhibitors to telework success. But Simmons said that should become less of a challenge going forward, particularly as agencies embrace new “bring your own device,” or BYOD, policies that allow employees to use personal hardware, such as laptops, PCs and smartphones, to log into work outside of the office. “I was slightly surprised over the way the tech component was characterized in the report,” he said. “In most cases, tech is not an inhibitor, it’s an enabler.”

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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