Telework as Recruiting Tool

Jack Penkoske, director of personnel at the Defense Information Systems Agency, said Wednesday that he hopes other agencies do not embrace telework. Speaking tongue-in-check on a panel at the Excellence in Government conference (sponsored by Government Executive) in downtown Washington, Penkoske said that if other agencies keep refusing to allow employees to telework, it will be easier for him to hire people who are interested in the concept.

DISA has one of the largest telework programs in the government, instigated partially due to the agency's move from Northern Virginia to a military base south of Baltimore. But the relocation isn't the only reason DISA has embraced telework, Penkoske said. The agency has found that it's a great recruitment and retention tool, because employees are looking for a high quality of life in addition to more pay.

About 18 months ago, DISA started allowing eligible employees to telework two days a week, which with compressed work schedules, gives them the opportunity to work outside the office five out of every ten days. The number of teleworkers at the agency has grown eight-fold since the change was made.

Penkoske said that the lack of telework adoption across the government is the fault of supervisors, who he said, not only fail to fully embrace the concept, but fail to make sure employees are properly trained for telework. Penkoske said at his agency some employees initially would put up automatic "out of office" replies on their email when working from home and would tell people not to call them at home.

Penkoske said that managers should not obsess about employees looking to use telework to goof off on the job. He said that slackers will be slackers no matter where they work and "superstars will be superstars no matter where you put them."

He said that the government has all the telework policy it needs in place and that agencies "just need to start doing it."

Deborah Cohn, deputy commissioner of trademark operations at the Patent and Trademark Office, said that the agency's "hoteling" program, in which teleworkers book office space for the times they're in the agency's headquarters, has been a huge success. She said that the agency has given up three floors of office space, which amounts to $1.5 million in annualized savings.

"You put that in your business case and people take a second look," Cohn said.

PTO expects to have 3,300 employees participating in its telework program -- one of the most extensive in the federal government -- by 2011.