'Work Is Not a Place; It’s What We Do,' Telework Official Says

Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock.com

Were you one of the 160,000 federal employees who pledged to telework last week as part of the annual Telework Week?

One agency leading the way in federal telework adoption – the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives – had more than 1,200 employees teleworking at some point last week. But that many teleworkers is not out of the ordinary even outside of Telework Week, a success the bureau credits to its implementation of a telework advisory committee that holds town hall meetings, provides monthly telework tips via email and works to ensure employees and supervisors are comfortable with telework arrangements.

ATF believes in "giving supervisors strong, effective tools and educating them on different methods for overseeing teleworkers that will assist in removing the cultural barriers to telework,” Karen Porciello, telework coordinator at ATF, told Wired Workplace. “And it is working … it’s not moving as fast as I would like to see it move, but we are moving to make our agency more of a mobile workforce.”

More than 1,300 employees out of a total workforce of roughly 5,000 at ATF currently have signed telework agreements, and most telework regularly at least two days per week, Porciello said. Like other agencies, the bureau’s biggest challenge has been bringing managers and supervisors on board, but the advisory committee has strived to help all see the value in telework.

Supervisors often take to the idea when they realize the value telework holds – whether for continuity of operations or by enabling top-performing employees who may need to take extended time off for surgery, for example, to continue working, she said.  

“Our big theme for Telework Week was that work is not a place; it’s what we do, and that’s what I’ve been trying to push,” Porciello said. “Supervisors don’t have to see their people to know that they’re working.”

Pushing telework for continuity of operations is not only a priority of ATF but the Justice Department at large, a benefit that was certainly seen at the start of Telework Week, when federal agencies were closed due to a snowstorm. The Justice Department is planning a large COOP exercise in April that will incorporate telework as an area to test, Porciello said.

ATF also is working towards implementing a Bring Your Own Device, or BYOD, policy that will enable employees more flexibility in when and where they work. Currently, employees with telework agreements are strongly encouraged to take their laptops home every night in case of inclement weather or another emergency, but BYOD would help better prevent problems like damage to laptops or employees simply forgetting to take their work-issued equipment home, Porciello said.

“We’re happy with the way things are moving,” she said. “The telework advisory committee and I strive every chance we get to promote telework, and one day we’ll have everybody teleworking.” 

(Image via Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock.com)