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Where's the (telework) money?

Posted on: Monday 5/30/2011 3:30am

An idea was floating around the Federal IT arena recently that would give workers a stipend to help pay for technology that they buy on their own, rather than agency-issued devices.

Despite being pitched by Federal CIO Vivek Kundra, and causing excitement in the telework community, the movement seems to have lost momentum.

Simon Szykman, CIO at Commerce, explains some of the challenges:

Sometimes there may be reasons why people prefer the separation between their personal life and their government life and their personal and their government property.

For instance, I may choose to give my Android phone to my daughter so she can listen to some music, and if there's official business on my own personal device, I may not be able to share that as freely.

The concept of remote wiping in the case of a lost device, the government may choose or wish to remotely wipe devices and individuals may not want that happening. The issue of who really manages and controls that device if it's being used for a shared purpose.

But to be honest, I think what it really comes down to is I think the idea behind that recommendation was one of cost savings and if you really look at the managed enterprise services, the cost of the device when you compare it to the cost of the people and the infrastructure to support these services and since many of these devices use mobile phone plans.... When you factor those into the equation, the actual up front cost of the devices is actually a very small portion of the overall lifecycle cost of supporting mobility.

So, in the end, I'm not sure how great a driver that will be for the decisions that are being made.

For more from Simon Szykman on mobility and the federal employee, see WFED panel discussion: The mobile fed.

Desktops fade, telework options grow

Posted on: Monday 5/16/2011 3:30am

Census is making the move to the cloud and taking telework with it.

Brian McGrath, Census chief information officer says virtualization will help Census employees telework more easily and improve the Bureau's security. McGrath said employees have been testing different software over the last few months to install virtual desktop software or thin clients.

"We will not use this technology only for telework," he said. "This is how we envision delivering desktop services internally in the Census Bureau and externally to any and all employees from home or a device of their choice."

At the Defense Information Systems Agency. Jack Penkoske; Director of Manpower, Personnel, and Security told Federal News Radio DISA already has the pieces in place to make the commute electronically, through telework.

"Just about all of our computers are the laptops with the docking station so employees can take it home," said Penkoske. "We have a requirement for our regular teleworkers that they have to take their computer home every night as well. Because, particularly if you have an emergency, you're not going to know about that emergency the night before."

In the end, said Penkoske, he would "like to see the day that we get away from even using the word 'telework' and just call it work, because it is work. It's just work in a different place."

How to be a more productive teleworker

Posted on: Monday 5/9/2011 5:08am

Asked about their telework plans as a result of the looming Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) moves, slightly more than one in five federal employees said they plan to increase their teleworking.

Whether you're looking at increasing your telework hours or just getting started, Howard Owen, business editor of The Fredericksburg (Va.) Free Lance-Star, provides ten tips to help make teleworking as productive as possible, courtesy of DEGW, a "strategic business consultancy."

Those tips include:

  • "Create a schedule. Determine start and stop times and make sure to create breaks. Set your clock or computer so you are reminded when to get up and walk around-or shower!"

  • "Determine the storage you need. Look at how many papers you reference in a typical week and provide shelves or drawers within 10 feet of your primary work space."

  • "Lock it up. Provide the proper amount of security. Avoid locating expensive equipment in front of windows that are seen by everyone. Lock the door or the drawer when you aren't "at work." Minimize printing. Password protect your computer and make sure it blanks its screen."

Other tips include making sure the area you'll be working in can be controlled for heat and cooling, invest in surge protection, and get a good chair!

For all ten tips, see When home is your office.

Don't be intimidated by telework agreements

Posted on: Monday 5/2/2011 3:30am

As agencies across the Federal government work to meet the June 7 deadline to finalize their telework policies, the Department of Defense is getting of their employees on the telework bandwagon.

Assuming both the supervisor and employee agree the employee should take the leap, the next step is to set up a telework agreement.

DoD's Chief Human Capital Officer, Pat Tamburrino, says "it's a pretty simple document."

It says they will telework periodically or episodically or they might even have an ad hoc telework arrangement, but there's an agreement as to what does the employee do when he or she is on telework, what's their output, what do we desire them to do and how do we measure it, and then we put accountability in place so that the employee and the supervisor have a mutual understanding of what happens when that employee's not on site.

He describes DoD employees as "extremely dedicated" and sees telework as another way to do a more efficient and effective job.

"I think that will really help improve the quality of life," said Tamburrino, "and the quality of service for a lot of our employees and give them a lot of flexibility and we'll still get our job done."

For more from Tamburrino, see the interview on In Depth with Francis Rose, "DoD readies to implement telework act".

How to write better e-mail

Posted on: Monday 4/25/2011 3:30am

Being able to write clear and concise e-mail becomes even more important for teleworkers. Especially for teleworking managers, according to FCW, who "will rely on e-mail to convey the bulk of information to their employees, which leaves little room for messages that are confusing, unfocused or, worse, offensive."

They offer the following tips, courtesy of the Corporate Executive Board:

  1. Compose a subject line that conveys the content and urgency of your message. Examples include "Action Required: Project Plans" and "Request for a Decision: Executive Committee Meeting."

  2. In replying to or forwarding a message, change the subject line to reflect a changed subject, if appropriate.

  3. Be concise in your responses, though not unnecessarily brief. Respond with sufficient information for the recipient to understand you.

  4. Focus on only one topic in each message. Keep messages clear, brief, and easy to file and retrieve.

  5. Be professional. Even though e-mail is relatively informal, it still requires thought and organization. Ask yourself: What do I want to say? What do I intend the message to accomplish? What action or reaction do I want?

  6. Avoid sending too many for-your-information messages that require no action on the part of the recipient.

  7. Follow any important message that might evoke emotion or misunderstanding with a telephone call. You might not be fully aware of the impact of the message unless you speak with and listen to the recipients.

  8. Don't shout. Be mindful that your readers might feel they are being yelled at if you send a message typed in all capital letters.

Missing from the list is any opinion on those happy smiley or winky face icons, but we're guessing those should be avoided. ;)

Where have all the PCs gone?

Posted on: Monday 4/18/2011 3:30am

Telework may be coming to the federal government through an unexpected means.

For example, Federal Aviation Administration is testing a pilot program where it's getting rid of desktop computers all together.

The tablet of choice, according to research group Gartner is, and will be, the iPad.

Carolina Milanesi, Research Vice President for Mobile Devices at Gartner, explained iPads Apple's domination of the tablet market when she spoke with Federal News Radio's Francis Rose.

"Apple has created a market that is not just based on a new form of a device the way that the old tablet PC came to market, where basically you had the same thing that you did on you PC but you can use a stylus. Apple created an ecosystem of application and services that support the tablet experience."

PC vendors, said Milanesi, don't get it. "They just see that as a hardware choice rather than an experience that is behind that hardware. And until the competitors crack that, until they understand that it's more than just the physical hardware that brings a consumer or an enterprise user to pick up a tablet, and in this case an iPad because it's not that all tablets are created equal, they're not going to be able to compete with Apple head to head."

Milanesi said tech officers in government should be ready for employees to bring in the iPad and wanting to get on the network.

Apple, she said, is a different kind of creature. "Instead of trying to continue to list the reasons why you shouldn't work with them, you should start to look at why you can work with them."

For more on Gartner's research findings, see Gartner Says Apple iOS to Dominate the Media Tablet Market Through 2015, Owning More Than Half of It for the Next Three Years and to hear the complete interview with Carolina Milanesi, see Federal News Radio's Will iPad replace your work computer?.

DISA's telework helps take a bite out of BRAC

Posted on: Monday 4/11/2011 3:24pm

The one sure method of avoiding traffic when heading to offices at Fort Meade, notes the Odenton Patch: "don't even bother going."

Editor Tim Lemke reports telework "is a main tentpole in a transportation demand management plan outlined by leadership at Fort Meade and neighboring counties."

Some agencies at Fort Meade dealing in classified and secret data, such as the National Security Agency, aren't set up for telework, notes Lemke.

But one of them very much is leading the way.

DISA, which will bring 4,700 new workers to its new headquarters at Fort Meade by the end of the summer, has had a robust telecommuting program in place for several years. At this point, reports GovExec, "nearly 50 percent of its employees have been approved to work remotely," many of them up to three days a week.

Aaron Glover, special assistant to the director of manpower, personnel and security at DISA tells GovExec's Emily Long, the "key to our success has been providing training to all our managers in regard to teleworking -- how you manage the remote workforce [and] communication with the employee, and make sure expectations are identified so everybody knows what's going to be expected while the employee is teleworking," Glover said.

USDA telework apps allow farmers to be out standing in their field

Posted on: Monday 4/4/2011 3:30am

The product of telework doesn't have to be just data generated by a federal employee. The Department of Agriculture is also working to make it mean data generated for them as well.

On Federal News Radio's Ask the CIO, the USDA's Natural Resources and Conservation Service's Gary Washington says as a new generation of farmers comes up, the NRCS is trying to reach them in the field and on their smartphone.

Washington tells executive editor Jason Miller, "what we're trying accomplish is to get conservation on the ground. and what I mean by that is we want to have farmers, our stakeholders, with the ability to be more mobile and spend more time out in the field."

So NRCS is developing apps for mobile devices, "probably be Droids, iPhones, iPads, things of that nature," said Washington.

"That workforce is younger now and more technology savvy and we want to make sure.... they have the opportunity to take advantage of the technology that's available to them."

The apps will include financial assistance and data inputs "for geospatial data that looks at and reviews people's farms so people can do conservation planning on mobile devices" as examples.

Washington said eliminating the paper handling could mow down processing time by 60 to 70 percent.

When mobile workers telework

Posted on: Monday 3/28/2011 3:30am

When is telework not telework? When it's done by a mobile worker, apparently.

During a recent pilot program, OPM was able to close offices and convert the work over to telework.

That change pointed out a wrinkle the new telework law, reports Brittany Ballenstedt on

Justin Johnson, deputy chief of staff at the Office of Personnel Management, told Ballenstedt the law "defines telework as employees working at a site where they traditionally do not work, he said."

But the new duty station has become the employee's home. "That exacerbates the problem for us because they're not counted in the telework statistics," he said. "They're mobile workers."

Sharon Wall, performance management officer at the General Services Administration, reports Ballenstedt, "said GSA is working to overcome that shortfall by creating a dashboard on its intranet that captures the number of people who are connected through a VPN at any given time."

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