Telework programs give agencies a competitive edge in attracting top talent, officials say

Telework is an important tool for attracting top talent and boosting government efficiency, federal officials said Thursday.

During a panel discussion at the Telework Exchange Town Hall in Washington, officials agreed that agencies with strong telework programs will have a competitive advantage when it comes to recruiting and retaining employees, particularly young hires who don't want to work at the same desk every day for years on end.

"We tend to think of ourselves as one big, happy federal family," said Justin Johnson, deputy chief of staff at the Office of Personnel Management. "This is an area where competitiveness matters. This is where we're all headed, and people who get there first are going to be more attractive employers."

Recent college graduates will enter federal service with a range of skills they'll expect to be able to use, which could increase the willingness of those around them to move forward with telework technologies, said Kevin Kampschroer, director of the Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings at the General Services Administration, who joined the event via teleconference. These employees also will bring new ideas for reducing overall costs while improving efficiency, he added.

According to Johnson, increasing trust between labor unions and agency managers is an important step toward getting telework up and running. The goal also requires renewing focus on performance accountability and allaying fears of managing employees who are not in sight. Program success will rise and fall on the support telework managing officers get from agency leaders, he added.

OPM this month issued guidance spelling out agencies' responsibilities in fulfilling the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act, which gave 180 days from the law's enactment -- until June 7 -- to establish a policy on working outside the office, identify eligible employees and inform them of the option. The law also requires agencies to name an official to manage telework programs. Agencies must also incorporate the policy into plans for continuing essential services during natural disasters or other emergencies.

Integrating human resources priorities with information technology needs will allow agencies to invest in telework during tough fiscal times, said Kampschroer. In many cases agencies work with compartmentalized budgets that don't mix funds designated for IT projects with those used on personnel issues, he noted.

"The mobility already exists," he said. "It is not an increase in cost. It's a change in choice. We need to be making sure we're integrating the decisions we're making as opposed to thinking about it as a pure HR issue or a pure technology issue."

GSA is in the process of setting up teleconferencing centers in 11 cities across the country that will be available to all federal agencies by the end of June, Kampschroer said. The facilities will be free of charge for several months to encourage users to test the technology, after that, the space will be available for an hourly fee. GSA also is working with agencies to identify efficiencies, increase shared space and reduce building portfolios.

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