FEMA Ramps Up Telework, Mobility

Agency strives for less office space, but better office space.

Mobility is part of the mission at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and now leaders are taking it to the next level, radically transforming the workplace with a focus on technology.

FEMA is embracing a mobility strategy that emphasizes modern workspaces, telework and hoteling -- an unassigned seating arrangment -- said Tonya Schreiber, the agency's deputy chief administrative officer, speaking at last week’s Telework Town Hall meeting sponsored by Mobile Work Exchange.

“FEMA is about people,” Schreiber said. “We have to have people to help protect people and do what we do best, so instead of paying for space and outdated systems that don’t work, we are investing in our people and empowering them with the right tools and the ability to effectively do their jobs.”

The strategy includes an effort to reduce the number of office buildings FEMA leases from eight to three and to create more open, collaborative workspace at those remaining locations. This effort, which is projected to be completed by 2016, will reduce office space by 182,000 square feet and will save more $9.1 million per year in leasing costs and roughly $530,000 per year in utility costs, she said.

The agency also is expanding its telework program to meet its mobility goals. Until six months ago, only 5 percent of FEMA’s workforce teleworked on a regular basis. But over the past few months, the agency has raised those numbers, so much so that 66 percent of full-time employees teleworked one to three days during this year’s Telework Week, which ran March 4-8, logging in more than 46,000 hours of telework that week alone.

“For us, this is all about leadership, and it starts at the top,” she said. “If we are going to be successful across the agency, we have to lead and demonstrate that we have trust in our organization and that we have trust in our people to be able to do their jobs even when they work remotely and virtually.”

The recent report on Telework Week found FEMA to be especially successful in its telework efforts. Ninety-six percent of employees who teleworked that week said they were more productive while teleworking.

The new mobility initiatives are requiring some culture shift among the agency’s employees, so FEMA is providing training not only on the new technologies but also on skills needed to effectively work in a telework environment or in an open, collaborative workspace, Schreiber said.

FEMA also is working to modernize its business processes by going “as paperless as possible,” particularly since most FEMA employees only have access to a Blackberry when working in the field or responding to a disaster, Schreiber said. “If you can’t get your job done in a disaster, then you can’t get your job done,” she said. “We want the disaster environment and how we have to function in a disaster to be our steady state every day.”

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