Debilitating storm? No sweat for teleworking feds

Wednesday - 7/4/2012, 1:29pm EDT

Danette Campbell

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Earlier this week, the government offered unscheduled leave and encouraged people to telework after a major storm knocked out power around the Washington, D.C. area.

"At the USPTO, if an individual has a telework agreement in place and they've communicated their intent to telework to their supervisor, they can telework on a day that was not planned to be a telework day," said Danette Campbell, the senior telework adviser at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

She spoke to In Depth with Francis Rose Tuesday about a new government checklist to help those who aren't currently teleworking make the transition.

From Campbell's perspective, the closings and impromptu teleworking caused by this week's storm only reiterates what her agency has been saying since 1997.

Danette Campbell, senior telework adviser, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

"There's so many different scenarios where teleworkers can continue to work without any hiccups whatsoever," Campbell said.

Riding out the storm

With more than 7,000 employees teleworking from one to five days a week, USPTO is one of the government's teleworking success stories.

"Of that 7,000, there are 3,500 who have completely relinquished their office space from the Alexandria (Va.) campus to work from home full-time," Campbell said.

If an agency's power is knocked out by a storm like the one that descended on Washington, D.C., on June 29, a full-time teleworker could continue working uninterrupted provided their own power is not affected by the same storm.

When a USPTO teleworker loses power at her home, she has the option of traveling to the Alexandria campus — if it has power — to work there or to take a day of leave.

During the massive snowstorm, nicknamed "Snowmageddon," that blanketed the region in February 2010, USPTO teleworkers continued to do their jobs while many federal employees at other agencies without teleworking agreements did not.

On Monday, July 1, when some agencies were without power, USPTO had 4,025 employees signing into the agency's network remotely during the peak of the day's activity.

Making it easy for feds to telework

"If I were to offer some advice to folks or organizations or to federal agencies, I would say, make sure you have your telework agreement in place, you have your telework training set up, your managers are trained so that if there is this kind of inclement weather situation, people are in position to continue working," Campbell said.

Current federal policy facilitates the adoption of telework by allowing civil servants to telework unless the nature of their job prevents them from doing so.

"When the legislation was written, it was pretty broad," Campbell said. "It was written in a general fashion and that really was by design, so that agencies would take a step back, look at their positions' descriptions and determine if those positions could be telework eligible and certainly look at the business unit drivers to make sure that telework was a good business strategy for their organization."

In order for someone to telework at USPTO, they must receive all the necessary training and have a teleworking agreement in place.

"Not only is telework essential in planning for business continuity, but it can really help an agency or organization with recruiting and retaining valuable employees, improve traffic congestion and air quality, provide an option for ADA accommodations, and, of course, real estate, parking and transportation costs can be reduces as well," Campbell said.

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