OPM recommends telecommuting as a way to help employees cope

Federal agencies should include telecommuting initiatives as part of recovery efforts for federal workers displaced or traumatized by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the Office of Personnel Management has recommended.

OPM issued new guidance this week encouraging the use of such flexible personnel practices as telecommuting and alternative work schedules to help employees who may be grieving or having trouble coping after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Agencies whose offices were affected by the attacks can use such practices until new work areas are found for displaced employees, OPM officials said.

"There are employees left in the New York area who still don't have desks to work at, and OPM is helping the [Federal Executive Board] in that area find current information about telework facilities," said Mary Tyler, a psychologist with OPM's Office of Work/Life Programs. In Washington, traffic jams resulting from roads closed after the terrorist attack at the Pentagon could be avoided if agencies would allow employees to work alternative schedules or telecommute, Tyler said.

Tyler cautioned that telecommuting programs should be set up carefully, taking into consideration the employee's state of mind.

"It needs to be done carefully under any situation, but we need to also factor in the recovery needs of the employee." Tyler explained. "For example, if someone is suffering from grief they probably should not be at home all day by themselves." Such employees could however, work in one of the telework centers the General Services Administration has set up.

Managers should also be aware that an employee's needs will change over time, Tyler said.

"What's best now may be different in a month or a couple of weeks, but it's always important to talk with employees and make sure that the work arrangements are going to work for them, and it's more important now that employees are suffering from stress and grief and all of that," Tyler said.

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