OPM to Agencies: Don't Forget to Expand Telework This Winter

OPM predicts an average DC winter this year.

OPM predicts an average DC winter this year. Bill Perry/Shutterstock.com

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Agencies must increase the number of telework-ready employees as part of continuity of operations plans.

The Office of Personnel Management on Thursday reminded federal agencies that they must continue to expand their usage of telework to ensure continuity of operations, particularly going into the winter season when agency closures and employee dismissals are more common.

In updated guidance on dismissal and closure procedures for the Washington, D.C. area, OPM pointed to requirements in the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act – which marks its third anniversary on Dec. 9 – that agencies incorporate telework into their continuity of operations plans.

“While the increased use of unscheduled telework has enhanced our COOP capabilities during severe weather, special events and other emergency situations, agencies must continue to expand their usage of telework to allow a greater number of telework-ready employees to be productive during government closures in order to meet the Act’s objectives,” the guidance states.

Agency COOP plans should ensure that equipment, technology and technical support have been tested, that employees are comfortable with the technology and communications methods, and that supervisors and managers are comfortable managing a dispersed workgroup, the guidance states.

OPM also reminded agencies that telework participation is voluntary and should never be forced on an employee to avoid providing excused absence on a day when federal offices are closed.

Telework has become a standard human resources tool over the past few winters to ensure employees continue to be productive during government closures. When two major snowstorms, including the infamous “Snowmageddon,” hit Washington, D.C. in February 2010, 30 percent of D.C.-area employees at OPM and the General Services Administration and 46 percent at the Patent and Trademark Office were able to telework through the storms. Those storms put in motion the call for and eventual passage of the Telework Enhancement Act.

And the numbers of teleworkers potentially working comfortably and safely from their homes during government closures this winter is sure to be higher. While OPM has yet to release their 2013 status report on federal telework, results of the 2013 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey show that the number of employees who are eligible to telework has increased since 2012, with 56 percent of employees saying they have been notified that they are eligible to telework.

“It’s fitting that they put the Telework Enhancement Act into law in the month of December because it’s common to get into these weather situations where employees can be productive or not at all,” Cindy Auten, general manager of Mobile Work Exchange, told Wired Workplace on Thursday. “It’s a great strategy.” 

(Image via Bill Perry/Shutterstock.com)