Federal Executives Bust Telework Myths

Flexible work arrangements don't hamper productivity and creativity, panelists say.

While companies like Yahoo! and Best Buy have canceled telework and flexible work programs based on the notion that such flexibilities hinder employee collaboration and innovation, some federal telework experts last week chalked up those beliefs as simply a myth. 

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.

Daniel Dupuis, associate director for administration at the National Institutes of Health, said telework also has enhanced the ability of managers to lead, as leadership has worked with human resources to set up a core set of standards that apply to both teleworkers and on-site employees.

“Most of the time, our customers aren’t aware where employees are working, which is good because it means employees are getting the job done,” he said.

Other tangible benefits have included being able to cast a wider net when it comes to hiring and recruiting, allowing employees to work longer hours while also maintaining work-life balance, enhancing employee wellness by keeping sick workers at home, and increasing quality of life and retention among employees, panelists noted.

Employees and managers also have acquired new technical skill sets as a result of telework, with teleworkers using a range of new tools like desktop sharing, video conferencing, Adobe Connect and Microsoft Lync, panelists noted.

Dupuis said NIH also has hosted telework festivals where employees and managers can view the latest software and IT solutions available for telework that can help sustain positive levels of productivity and help ease managers’ fears about the work option.

“Any technology that promotes collaboration is going to promote it whether you’re in the office or teleworking,” said Rory Shultz, deputy chief information officer at the Food, Nutrition and Consumer Service at the Agriculture Department.  

Bob Landis, chief of the civilian requirements division at the Defense Department, encouraged managers to stick with their telework program, even if they do not see specific tangible benefits right away. “Telework enhances the performance of the whole team,” he said. “You may not see a tangible increase in productivity, but the intangible is what you see with work-life balance and increases in morale. And finally, if you’re going to have folks telework, you should telework yourself.”