On Telework

Telework is a popular topic in the federal government. Some of that is due to the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act, which required all federal agencies to establish telework programs, decide and then advise employees whether they were eligible for telework.


A number of executives see the program as providing their organizations with a strategic advantage. A recent article in Wired Workplace put this in perspective:

“In a webinar -- “Busting Telework Myths in the Federal Government: A Management Perspective” -- held Thursday by the Center for Organizational Excellence, telework leaders from four federal agencies said telework has actually enhanced worker productivity and creativity, in large part because many have fewer distractions when working outside of the office.


In a poll taken during the webinar, the majority of participants (60 percent) said they are not worried about telework having a negative impact on employee productivity. Of course, that means that 40 percent still have some concern in this area, and that could explain why managerial resistance is still a main barrier to telework implementation at federal agencies.”


Telework is popular in many circles for a variety of reasons, including the fact that:


·     Employees do not have to fight traffic in order to come to work. This theoretically means they will be more refreshed when doing their work since they can wake up later and not have to deal with the stress of commuting.

·      Employees maintain a better work-life balance and it promotes the overall health of the workforce since sick employees can work out of their homes.

·      It is good for the environment as fewer cars are on the road.

·      Less office space is needed when employees work at home. This saves the government money on rent, utilities, repairs, etc.

·      Organizations that use telework often find it is easier to attract and retain talent because employees like the benefits of the program.

·      It provides increased flexibility in the event of an emergency.


That having been said, telework does have its downsides. For example:


·      Communication, teamwork and creativity is often more difficult since people are rarely together to share ideas and attend important face-to-face meetings.

·     It is more difficult for employees to learn the “art of the job” since they do not get to work side by side with colleagues who can teach them these skills that can not be codified and are so important to success.

·      Many supervisors struggle to manage the day-to-day work when people are not at the worksite. For example, they lose the flexibility of being able to turn to an employee for support if he is not nearby. Moreover, it can be more difficult to both track an employee’s performance and develop her if she is rarely at the work site.

·      Some people who are engaged in telework miss the social connections that are normally available when they are working on site.


Given the plusses and minuses of the program, here are some suggestions for successfully implementing telework:


·      Recognize that telework is not for everyone, as some positions require employees to be on the job at all times (e.g. a security guard, a customer contact representative who helps visitors, etc.)

·      Telework tends to work best for positions whose work is easily measurable (e.g. a claims representative) and doesn’t require an immediate handoff to another individual and for positions where the incumbent tends to work very independently (e.g. a field examiner, an investigator, etc.)

·      Ensure that the employees on telework have the tools at home needed to do their job (computer, telephone, Skype, etc.)

·      Have strict procedures in place so that when employees work at home, the privacy of your customers is protected.

·      Consider having more challenging performance standards (especially output) for people on telework as they often do not have to perform all of the tasks that people at the worksite do (e.g. attend meetings, provide training, perform special projects, etc.)

·      Make sure you have the infrastructure in place to track the work the work of the employee, do the requisite quality reviews, etc.

·      Have the employees report to the worksite on a periodic basis in order to attend training, participate in important meetings, discuss issues of concern, etc.

·      Ensure everyone understands that management reserves the right to take one or more positions currently on telework out of the program if it is not working as intended or not meeting the needs of the organization.


The key to implementing a successful telework program is to only do it when it makes good business sense. When it does, make sure you limit it to those positions that it would help the mission and benefit the employee and that have you have the requisite infrastructure in place to make it work.



Stewart Liff writes on human resources management issues in government for OhMyGov. A recipient of the President's Council on Management Improvement Award, he is the author of five books, including Improving the Performance of Government Employees. His expertise includes employee relations, labor relations, Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO), performance management, staffing, training, rewards and recognition, metrics, systems design and succession planning. More at StewartLiff.com

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