OPM paves path to automated telework tracking

Thursday - 7/12/2012, 5:14am EDT

Justin Johnson, deputy chief of staff, OPM

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The Office of Personnel Management is preparing to automate the way agencies collect statistics about telework, in an effort to address concerns about data quality.

OPM will pilot the system ahead of next June's telework report to Congress, with the goal of deploying it throughout government by summer 2014. The shift will move agencies away from manual data collection, which OPM uses for its annual report, to a hands-off approach, said Justin Johnson, OPM's deputy chief of staff, in an interview with Federal News Radio.

During the evaluation phase, "we'll be able to compare the snapshot of agency-submitted data and the payroll provider-captured data," he said.

Justin Johnson, deputy chief of staff, OPM

The Government Accountability Office has said the current telework tracking setup raises questions about whether the data collected is trustworthy. OPM agreed.

"Some agencies use the number of telework agreements to estimate telework participation; consequently, some reported participation numbers may be overestimates," OPM wrote in its 2012 report to Congress. "This is because some employees may have telework agreements in place for emergencies, but choose not to telework on a regular basis. A more accurate picture is likely to emerge as agencies move toward using time and attendance systems to count teleworkers.

The automated system will rely on time and attendance data, painting a more accurate, detailed picture of federal employees' telework habits, OPM said.

"You can track the number of hours worked by telework," Johnson said. "You can track the grades of employees who are teleworking more frequently. You can look by region. You can do a lot of data analytics that … you just can't do right now with some of the manual" collection systems that agencies are using.

Johnson said the move to an automated telework tracking system also could affect how the Executive Branch's management agencies make decisions.

"One can imagine not only how a more automated system would be useful at the agency level," he said, but "OPM or OMB could use the data to do a lot more analytics and figure out what is actually happening and how to use it as a better management tool."

Manager resistance to telework

Data collection is one of the many challenges for the initiative to increase telework. OPM also is helping agencies change the mindsets of managers who continue to resist the push to let more employees work remotely.

"Participants shared that some managers are used to being able to see their staff members physically working in the office (typically described as line-of-sight management) and that they find comfort in this dynamic," OPM wrote in the telework report.

To help, the agency is urging managers across government to lead based on results rather than attendance, Johnson said. The push includes emphasis on a Telework.gov training module that encourages leaders to set clear goals and deadlines for teleworkers.

"It's really a matter of comfort," he said. "What a lot of managers find is that they sort of have to grow into it if they've never done it before. And over time, you learn, you get better. It leads to better outcomes, ultimately."

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