More feds will telework soon

Tuesday - 7/13/2010, 4:16pm EDT

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By Dorothy Ramienski
Internet Editor
Federal News Radio

The House of Representatives is set to vote on H.R. 1722, the Telework Improvements Act, late Wednesday.

With the Senate version of the bill already passed, many are wondering if telework will soon become mandatory at many federal agencies.

Jessica Klement is with the Federal Managers Association and joined Mike Causey on this week's Your Turn to discuss what, if anything, will change if the bill passes.

"What this bill [does] is deem everyone telework eligible unless your manager deems you telework inelgibile. So, everyone's eligible to telework, and then managers and agency leaders have to say you can't. I believe for those who are telework eligible, they're supposed to telework 20 percent of the time, which would be one day a week."

Regardless of how the bill does in the House, however, Klement says federal managers should start thinking about telework as a policy that's going to happen no matter what.

"This is something OPM is really pushing, and if it doesn't go through [Wednesday], it's going to be coming down the pipe eventually. This is something that managers and agency leadership should be preparing for."

As Federal News Radio has been telling you, OPM's Federal Viewpoint Survey was recently released, and several of the questions had to do with telework.

About 35 percent of the respondents said they were satisfied with telework, 10 percent indicated that they teleworked at least one day a week while another 12 percent said they teleworked infrequently.

Klement said those numbers are likely to change if the bill passes, but there are a variety of reasons why telework has not become more of a status quo in the federal government.

"We keep hearing, time and time again, that the reason telework isn't being rolled out on a broader scale is because of management resistance. . . . What I would say to that is, do it on a pilot project basis. You have an employee that's incredibly productive in the office, give them a month -- one day a week -- to test it out at home."

One of the other problems, Klement says, is that not everyone in the office is productive, which can create some uncomfortable scenarios.

"Nobody wants to have the difficult conversation. You have an underperforming employee who squeaks by with their General Schedule raise each year who wants to telework -- and the manager doesn't know how to say [he or she] can't telework because I don't trust you to do your job at home. Rolling out telework should force workplaces to have those difficult conversations that they don't know how to have."

Still another obstacle has to do with the way telework is viewed by many outside of the federal government.

Klement explains that one of the challenges her organization faced had to do with the fact that some members of Congress saw telework as a benefit for feds and were inclined to dismiss it as such, but Congress hasn't been the only obstacle.

"This isn't a federal employee benefit. This is supposed to help federal government operations and . . . a lot of times, within collective bargaining agreements, the unions will stipulate you have to be here for certain meetings even if it's on your telework day. A lot of [those] problems can be worked out in a collective bargaining agreement on telework."

One of the overall goals, she adds, is to save the federal government money during emergencies, such as when the blizzards hit earlier this year.

"I think the folks at GSA and USPTO will tell you what a benefit it has been to their agencies. It frees up cubicles and workspace for other employees to work at headquarters . . . and I think the snowstorms this winter really proved that."