Getting the most out of telework

Sunday - 12/4/2011, 6:11pm EST

By Julia Ziegler
Federal News Radio

The federal government has made a huge push in the past year to get more federal employees on the telework bandwagon. The Telework Enhancement Act signed on Dec. 9, 2010, called on agencies to determine the telework eligibility status of every employee. To date, some agencies have done a better job at this than others.

Danette Campbell, the senior advisor for telework at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, spoke on a recent Federal News Radio panel discussion about some of her agency's successes and offered tips for federal managers still struggling with telework.

"I believe this initiative, it really is a paradigm shift," Campbell said. "It's going to take a manager who has excellent communication skills, excellent organizational skills, and is able to clearly communicate those expectations top down, side-to-side. But those are the skills that we need in the brick-and-mortar environment as well. I don't think that this thing called telework is really that difficult. It's just about being organized and making sure that you, as a manager, are communicating what you expect of your employees."

Christina Morrison, the manager of government marketing for Hewlett-Packard's Personal Systems Group, is a teleworker herself. She said building a good telework program is a process.

"Take the time, build your plan. Ask your peers. Reach out to somebody like Danette and ask them what has worked, what hasn't and learn from others. Take into consideration telework is a new skill set that needs to be taught to employees and to managers so that they know how work flow should be accomplished. Second, go and work with your IT department. Make sure you have the tools that you need to implement a telework program."

Dealing with security

For the federal managers worried about security risks associated with teleworking, Campbell reminded them it's really no different than securing computers used at headquarters. And, she said, all employees undergo extensive training before being allowed to telework from home.

"We ensure they have the non-IT telework training, which speaks to communicating in a virtual environment, managing expectations, etc., but we also have a very in-depth IT training. That IT training incorporates this issue surrounding security. We have a rules-of-the-road document that is not only on the USPTO intranet for people to access, that document is reviewed during the training. There is no way that an employee who has been deployed to telework does not really understand what the parameters are, what the guidelines are, and what the expectations are when they work remotely."

Morrison said it's not just about the security of the actual computers but also about who is around federal employees when they are working - one of the reasons she doesn't support teleworkers working in public places such as coffee shops. "Is somebody looking over your shoulder and reading something they shouldn't be reading? Or, are you taking a phone call maybe that you shouldn't have taken?"

As for where telework is headed, Campbell said she wants to see "agencies elevate telework as a business strategy to accomplish their agency mission and strategic goals. I hope that a few years down the road we are no longer talking about this thing we are now calling telework and it's just a way that we get the work done."