Why Telework When You Can Take a Snow Day?

Evan Vucci/AP

Conflicting regulations confuse feds and create disincentives for telework.

Agency leaders who have incorporated telework into their continuity of operations plans likely had an advantage Friday, when their employees could take unscheduled telework to avoid the slippery commute after a snowstorm hit the East Coast.

Snowstorms often force federal offices to shut down, requiring only emergency and telework-ready employees to work while all other feds have the day off. And that may be one reason some feds are avoiding telework altogether.

A post on GovLoop from Dec. 10 – when agencies in the Washington, D.C. area were closed due to a snowstorm – indicates that some federal employees have indeed opted out of telework because they believe it is unfair to have to work when others get a free day off due to a government closure.

Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics and the Telework Research Network, told Wired Workplace on Friday that a forthcoming report by GWA on the obstacles and opportunities to federal telework also confirms that some federal employees are reluctant to sign telework agreements because it would require them to telework on days the government is shut down due to weather and other circumstances.

“It actually gets a bit crazy when you start to scratch the surface of the regulations,” Lister said. “For example, feds with young children at home are not permitted to telework. So what does a mom or dad do when a snow causes schools to close? One reg says you are required to telework and the other says you can’t. There are still many unanswered questions.”

The 2013 telework status report released by the Office of Personnel Management last month shows that nearly half (47 percent) of federal employees in September 2012 had been notified of their eligibility to telework, yet only 21 percent of those eligible did so that month. That compared to fiscal year 2012 overall, when 30 percent of those eligible teleworked at least infrequently, likely accounting for employees who teleworked during agency closures and weather situations. That still leaves the majority of telework-eligible feds choosing not to telework, including during the occasional agency closure.

It’s in these times of inclement weather that agencies should be reminded that telework is more than just a solution to a snow day, but rather a strategic approach to managing employees and processes, Lister said, adding that telework has already proven to be a valuable tool at agencies that have embraced it.

“It’s time for all of government to look beyond telework as something that has been mandated or as a tactical solution to a specific problem like a crippling snowstorm,” Lister said. “What is needed now is for government to take a strategic approach to maximizing the potential of telework and other new ways of working by adapting its workplaces, work processes and work practices to best support where, when and how work is actually done.”

Do you telework on snow days? Are some of your colleagues opting out of telework in part because they prefer the occasional free day off?