OPM’s Telework Policy for Parents Is An Exercise in Distrust

Even the most careful teleworker is going to have a less than ideal situation arise during the course of a few months or years.

I’ve been working from home exclusively for the past 6 years. I say it all the time, not really in jest, that I could never work in an office again. I just can’t wear real pants anymore.

Like most work-from-home parents, I still have traditional office hours and great childcare. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t times when worlds collide and my children barge into my office during a video call.

As someone who worked for the Department of the Army and successfully negotiated a one-day-a-week approved telework situation, recently released OPM guidance on telework and dependent care is ushering in a flashback. Picture a group of women sitting in a conference room, being lectured by HR about why we could not have our children at home with us while we worked (I didn’t even have kids at this point, but given the fact that I have a uterus, it was clearly a risk).

This was Washington, D.C., mind you. And anyone who was working at the Pentagon who had kids was already shelling out at least $1,000 a month for the privilege of quality childcare (multiply that for multiple children). My guess is parents weren’t going to pull their children out of daycare one day each week while they worked from home. And since telework days were pre-arranged, static work days, the chance of your telework day falling on the same day your child is sick is not the kind of karma I have ever experienced as a parent.

But old habits die hard, it seems, and Uncle Sam is still threatening parents—don’t dare consider the possibility of interacting with your children while working from home. Unless it’s on your lunch break. And only if it’s pre-approved by your manager. The new OPM guidance goes so far as to suggest that an employee who sees their dependents during the lunch hour should have approval from their supervisor. Which makes me wonder if I need to get permission before the next time I go grab a sandwich with a colleague? 

When Guidance Goes Too Far

There are elements of the telework policy that seem genuinely focused on making sure dependent care and telework can go hand-in-hand. But reading "scenarios" like this is where my eye-rolling reaches maximum level:

Scenario: Mason’s son Mahlon was born several months ago. He and his wife have a nanny caring for Mahlon at home each day. Mason discussed with his supervisor the fact that he has a home office on the third floor, and that the nanny cares for the baby on the first and second floors. So his supervisor has approved Mason to telework on Tuesdays. As a sleep deprived young parent, Mason appreciates the extra sleep he can get on Tuesdays when he is not commuting, and also enjoys the extra time he has to decompress after work and prepare a nice dinner for the family on Tuesday evenings.

There’s an implication here that there needs to be complete separation. Even with a nanny, I couldn’t separate myself from my kids by an entire floor—not in my 1,200 square foot Arlington, Va., ranch home. (Maybe other D.C. workers can relate).

In my five years as a work-from-home parent I have:

  • Been trying to speak during a company meeting and had the 5-month-old I was holding start to cry (it turns out no matter how much you ‘Lean In’ you still can’t breastfeed on a conference call without risks).
  • Had a 2-year old walk in during a video call and ask me to wipe his bottom.
  • Had a 5-year-old run into my office and play hide and seek under my desk during a video call.

And about 10 other situations even more embarrassing and likely to get me reprimanded by a government supervisor. And guess who was present for each of those situations? My very well paid and highly competent nanny. And while the logical response would be ‘Buy a door lock and put down your baby during conference calls for goodness sakes!’ even the most careful teleworker is going to have a less than ideal situation arise during the course of a few months or years. Is management going to fall back on the competence of their employees at those times, or a policy that would likely lead to ending telework completely?

Will Work for Wine

I’ve generated some of my best ideas over a glass of red wine during an evening conversation with my husband, without any third-party childcare present. Like most professionals, I also always log back in each evening after the kids go to bed and clean up shop (most of my friends working 9-5 in an office do the same thing).

Does the government want to start reimbursing for those non-business hours? Do they want to start welcoming the kind of creativity and competitive advantage a real work-from-home situation can offer? The government has had a tricky relationship with both telework and results oriented work environments. And it’s true that many government jobs cannot be done from home at all (ask my husband, he works in a SCIF).

But when the guidance from OPM on telework focuses on 10 pages of dependent care caveats, Uncle Sam is doing it wrong. And the “real life” scenarios only make it worse. I guarantee there is some government manager out there who’s going to use the Mason and Mahlon example to demonstrate why a government worker living in an apartment can’t be allowed to telework while having a relative watch the baby.

Trust Is Essential

Successful telework does require clearly articulated policy. But it requires one thing even more important—trust. Trust is the most critical element of telework (Just ask this PhD who has studied the topic extensively). Ten-page policies won’t make a great telework program. They’ll fill up months of meetings at OPM and scare most workers out of trying (maybe that’s why only about 40 percent of those eligible to telework in government even attempt it), and that’s about it.

We are currently in the midst of one of the most competitive cleared hiring markets I have seen in my 10 years working in and around government. And I’m hearing from more and more recruiters that telework and flexible schedules are one of the benefits they’re successfully using to attract talent. If government wants to compete, they’ll need to make sure their policies make it easier to telework—not harder.

Lindy Kyzer is the editor of ClearanceJobs.com and a former Defense Department employee.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.