FCW Insider: FCW's telework experience

Earlier, I blogged about GSA's telework goal and the fact that FCW and the 1105 Government Information Group have embraced telework more enthusiastically since the merger with the former PostNewsweek Tech Media publications (GCN, Washington Technology, et al).

Part of that was born of necessity. Many of our new employees lived in Maryland -- far from our Falls Church, Va., offices. The DISA folks, too, are discovering that telework is a way of keeping employees as they shift DISA HQ from Northern Virginia to Maryland as part of the BRAC process. Given DC traffic, it just doesn't make sense to have somebody spend an hour -- or hours -- in a car before they can start their workday. That isn't good for them, and it isn't good for us.

We also have a history of encouraging teleworking. FCW's former DOD reporter, the legendary Bob Brewin, worked from Las Vegas, N.M. He always noted that it was the original Las Vegas.

We have other teleworkers as well. FCW Technology Editor John Zyskowski lives in western Massachusetts; Government Health IT Editor Paul McCloskey lives in Chicago; GHIT news editor Nancy Ferris lives in Maryland; and FCW management editor Richard Walker lives in Maryland.

To be honest, when we started adding all the teleworkers, I was concerned. Putting out a magazine, after all, is a collaborative process. The idea-creation process -- brainstorming -- generally works better when you sit around in a room and... well, brainstorm, people shooting out ideas with one idea building on the next. And there is also the culture issue. Successful magazines have a voice, and part of that comes from sharing a culture and building a common mission and vision. With our teleworkers, that has not been an issue. Teleworking necessitates greater communication, but it is an issue that can be resolved.

So here are some of CJD's telework lessons learned (feel free to add your own):

* Communication: Trite but true -- you can never communicate enough. This is true all the time, but it is particularly true with telework. Communication helps overcome the culture issues. Communication can help overcome the vision issues. Communication can help identify issues that arise. But communication will also help both manager and worker feel as though they have a connection. Managers won't think that the teleworking employee is not doing anything, and the employee won't feel like he or she is “out of sight, out of mind.” So, at least initially, set up regular times to talk -- every day. Sometimes even a few times a day. And I'd do that for three to six months. After that, it will become a habit -- almost as if you are both in the office.

* People: Telework doesn't work for everybody -- managers or workers. It will work swimmingly for some people, while others need to get eased into it, maybe starting with one or two days a week before teleworking full-time. I generally like people to be in the office for awhile -- to make connections and understand the publications and for us to understand them -- before they telework full-time. That being said, I think anybody can telework given the right environment.

* Equipment policies: This was an issue for us initially. Do we pay for people's Internet connections, phone lines, etc.? We debated this for some time. After all, it isn't as if most people don't have an Internet connection or a phone line. What we eventually decided was that if people had an office at the office, we didn't pay; if they used temporary/shared/hotel offices, then we paid. That seemed fair. Most of our people have laptops, so that wasn't an issue.

* Put on the other person's shoes occasionally: If you telework, get into the office -- regularly. It doesn't have to be all the time, but do it regularly. If you work in the office, try teleworking -- particularly if you have meetings and use conference calls. You will be shocked at what an outsider you can be. We have toyed with the idea of having everybody teleconference, even people here in the office. That would put everybody on an even playing field -- no outsiders. We haven't done it yet. Frankly, part of my interest in virtual worlds such as Second Life is that it would be great to have some way we could have a virtual meeting. During a trip earlier this year to Microsoft, we saw the company’s Virtual Office and they demonstrated some amazing teleconferencing technologies that make it feel like everybody is in the same room.

These lessons, of course, are pulled from our experience. Agencies have more formal rules and regulations that they have to follow. OPM pulls many of those together in the telework guide [.pdf], and it includes lessons learned, too.

I'd love to get your ideas about what works -- and what doesn't.