Teleworking: Trust But Verify?

Friday - 7/16/2010, 4:00am EDT

The House-passed teleworking bill could, and is supposed to, make it possible for tens of thousands stuck-at-the-office feds to work from home one day a week on a regular basis.

Under the House plan, agencies would have to determine which employees are not eligible to telework. And why.

Each agency would be required to designate a current employee to be its Telework Managing Officer. The Government Accountability Office would oversee the program. Agencies where authorized employees didn't telework at least one day per week (or two pays per pay period) "shall not be considered to be in compliance" with the legislation. The Senate has approved a similar bill and the White House favors expanded teleworking.

Currently about 10 percent of the white collar federal workforce teleworks. Yesterday's column dealt with some of the potential downsides. If you doubt that teleworking is a hot button issue, check out some of the e-mails we got on the subject:

  • "All things in life are balanced.

    Teleworking can be great. You can work from home one day every week. Instead of getting up at 6 am I can sleep until 7:25 and then walk downstairs and log in. You can throw in a couple loads of laundry while reading all of the work materials that have built up during the week. (Laundry is the same as taking a quick bathroom break when you are at the office.) You can email and take phone calls and get a lot done without interruptions. You can schedule the heater, refrigerator, delivery man or plumber for the same day. Additionally, traffic on Mondays and Fridays in the DC metro area is noticeably lighter. My commute is shorter by 5-10 minutes because of teleworkers on those days. The benefits to the employee include extra sleep, less commuting time and money, and finishing a few small items around the house. The government/agency gains through employee morale, lighter traffic and a more efficient employee that can concentrate on a difficult project.

    Teleworking can be awful. Some people telework and you can't reach them. It takes hours to get an email response and if you are lucky enough to get them on their cell phone, you can hear the sound of the grocery store, playground, or auto repair shop in the background. Some teleworkers want the advantages of teleworking but won't provide a phone number where they can be reached. Some teleworkers want to telework five days a week and think it is an entitlement. Work doesn't get done or at least there is no evidence of anything productive. The downside of teleworking is that managers have to work harder to supervise and ensure that projects and work are getting done. They have to confirm the location of their employees, their locations and productivity. Employees have to be responsible and not abuse the system. Many projects around the office are assigned but lots of projects are 'emergencies.' The boss yells out the door of her office, 'I have a hot emergency case, who can handle it for me today?' If you telework, you won't get that case. Instead another employee will step up and show their value to the boss. That will reflect over time in promotions, pay raises, better cases and a better work relationship/reference in the future. I warned my wife that when layoffs happen at commercials organizations, the people that are seen being active everyday in the office are retained.

    At the end of the day, teleworking requires everyone to do their jobs and recognize that there are some additional challenges that must be overcome to make it a truly positive situation for everyone.

  • "I'm teleworking today so I will be 'ready' for my colonoscopy tomorrow. Traveling to and from work is not advisable! When you're over 60, it's time to have a look see. Tomorrow will be a day off on sick leave. A Federal employee will do anything to get out of work. Almost anything." Doug in Denver

  • "Managers here are leery of it. We have very few doing it. It is not encouraged. Would like to give it a try without getting any unspoken negativity associated with it (however subtle). We have to buy our own computers. Then, you have to spell out what you will be doing. Economically, it should help employees." Social Security Dave

  • "...I would like to telework when all I do is computer and internet based. There are much fewer distractions at home without the phone ringing off the wall here and bull sessions going on in the next cubicle. And it wouldn't have to be 5 days a week. If I could telework 1 or 2 days a week, and those days could be flexible depending on meetings and presentations, that would save a lot of gas in a year's time. Thanks, and it was so hot here in San Antonio, yesterday, I had to eat salsa just to cool down..." Ray R