CIOs urge more telework programs

Officials also say managers need different skills to supervise employees who work at remote locations.

Telework isn’t as widespread in the federal government as it should be, a government improvement group said. The lack of widespread adoption of telework is part of the general management and performance challenges at many agencies, said Max Stier, president and chief executive officer of the Partnership for Public Service.

If senior officials don’t have a true sense of what their objectives are and how to set and measure them, telework won’t happen, Stier said at an event sponsored by the Telework Exchange on April 8.

Telework requires more agency managers with the additional skills necessary to oversee employees who work away from government facilities, he added. Those managers must be able to effectively communicate the agency's objectives so employees can mesh their goals with those of the agency, Stier said.

“If you can’t provide the answer without having them in front of you, telework won’t work. Having employees sitting at their desk isn’t a goal,” Stier said. Agencies need to invest more in training for managers to learn techniques for managing remote workers effectively, he added.

“This is about effective government,” Stier said. "Telework itself is not the end goal."

The National Institutes of Health has 3,300 teleworkers, defined as employees who spend at least one day a week working from another location, but the agency has the technological capacity for 10,000 teleworkers, said Jack Jones, NIH's chief information officer and director of its Center for Information Technology.

NIH has many more employees who perform some of their duties remotely, he added.

“It’s more about mobility,” Jones said, adding that NIH has 9,000 employees who use BlackBerrys and iPhones.

Thomas Boyce, deputy CIO at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said telework is an important aspect of recruiting and retaining top talent. Some managers might think that teleworking is unnecessary because more people are applying to work for the government during the economic downturn. However, “even in a difficult economy, telework is a way to attract the best,” he said.

Boyce is a member of an NRC committee that's studying work-life balance, and telework is part of that. NRC is considering a pilot program in which a group of employees could take care of family duties during part of the day and perform work activities at home in the evening, he said.

Funding telework and the technology infrastructure it requires is problematic for agencies, Boyce said. He recommended that telework funding be part of disaster recovery and continuity-of-operations planning.

Jones said the forces that are driving telework also include:

  • The ability to gain more productivity from employees.
  • A tool for emergency preparedness.
  • Public law and agency policy.