OPM extends ROWE pilot for another year

Thursday - 10/7/2010, 7:54pm EDT

WFED's Jason Miller with Justin Johnson, deputy chief of staff, OPM

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

The Office of Personnel Management's 400 employees participating in the Results Only Work Environment get another 12 months to test out the concept.

Justin Johnson, OPM's deputy chief of staff, said Thursday that agency director John Berry decided to extend the pilot through Sept. 30, instead of ending it in December.

"We told our crew, the 400 who are in the pilot, we would extend it through the fiscal year but during October, which is the government's performance planning month, we will sit down and talk about getting people under new performance plans and new standards that actually specifically jive with the ROWE goals and concepts," said Johnson after his panel at the GreenGov Symposium Thursday in Washington, D.C. "The idea being there were some people especially in our retirement group, who feel like they are being told they can work in new ways, but are worried that if we measure them the same way from a performance appraisal standpoint that perhaps it's not worth it to try to work in new ways."

Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) is a concept that lets employees set their own schedules but holds them to specific performance goals. OPM announced the concept earlier this summer.

OPM is testing this approach with employees in the director's office, the communications office, human resources solutions office and retirement and claims benefits processing division.

Johnson said in the first few months of the pilot OPM learned several important lessons. He said the agency is improving how employees are evaluated as part of the program. The goal is to make sure the appraisals are in line with the goals of ROWE and not based on the more structured work environment.

OPM also received a ruling from its attorneys saying if an employee works at night by choice, they do not get paid a premium.

"If you are assigned to work at night, then you get the 25 percent premium pay," Johnson said. "Sunday still is a challenge because the law says anytime you work on Sunday you get paid the premium. If the employee asks and receives permission, they get paid extra."

But for other requirements such as core hours, OPM determined that the employee and manager only has to designate two hours on two separate days per pay period.

Johnson said the pilot has opened up the idea of autonomy for many of the employees.

"A lot of people are working the same ways as before, but they know they have the freedom if something comes up on a certain day, it's not like they have an assigned telework day, then they can decide on the fly," Johnson said. "As long as they are getting the work done, they have the permission to be their own personal innovators."

The results from OPM's workplace survey are showing the difference ROWE is starting to make, Johnson said.

"People are reporting an increase in satisfaction of the resources they have to do their job," he said. "Even though we haven't rolled out new technology, they're essentially just being allowed to think for themselves and use their own internal resources to get their work done."

Another challenge is employees found they were in competition with each other instead of working collaboratively.

The goal is to let employees feel like they can take risks to get their job done and not be disadvantaged by an old measurement system, Johnson said.

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