Telework is a Triple Win Situation

At least according to the panelists featured on the The Federal Executive Forum on Telework…

Last Tuesday FederalNews Radio.com published Jeff Erlichman’s Telework Into the Future. Erlichman, Founder and President of Public Sector Communications, has an extensive background of providing editorial content for the Federal News Radio as well as a myriad of other Government IT related publications such as Federal Computer Week and Washington Technology and Defense Systems. He also publishes a monthly eNewsletter called Effective Government (and has since 2003) where he focuses on best practices for an effective government. Here’s how he describes what he covers in his eNewsletter:

I write about the positive actions government and its industry partners take to improve government – especially in the area of Information Technology. Despite what you might read in the mainstream press, there are many dedicated professionals throughout government who are making significant contributions that improve the lives of all Americans.

His article, published on Federal News Radio, coincides with the latest Federal Executive Forum Series that took place on that day at 2PM ET on the station. While I wasn’t able to listen to the show live Tuesday afternoon, I signed up to Listen on Demand and found the entire thing very interesting.

You can still hear the broadcast of the Federal Executive Forum’s Telework Panel that aired April 8th, 2008. If you’re interested in telework programs and how the government is facing the challenges and reaping the benefits, it’s worth your time. The panelists included some of the major drivers in telework today. Hearing them discuss accomplishments and goals for telework certainly gives me hope that telecommuting is working on many levels and will continue to be even more prevalent in the near future.

I encourage you to listen to the broadcast yourself, especially if you’re in human resources and considering instituting a telework program in your own company. It begins with the host, Jim Flyzik, President of The Flyzik Group, welcoming listeners and promising that the assembled panel will discuss “critical issues facing government and industry leaders around teleworking.” Once he’s introduced the panelists, he gets right to the point by asking each of them to describe their roles in the advancement of telework.

If you didn’t have time to hear it for yourself, here’s a recap of how each of the panelists introduced themselves and their roles in telework initiatives:

Casey Coleman, CIA of the GSA, noted that the GSA has been involved in telework for some time and co-sponsors the telework centers on the fringes of the Washington Metropolitin community. She also talks about the GSA Telework challenge the Administrator at GSA set last fall. The goal is to have 50 percent of the GSA workforce telecommuting by 2010. They currently have 10 percent teleworking, with a goal of having 20 percent doing so by the end of this year. Read Administrator Doan Issues GSA Telework Challenge, a speech from September 12, 2007, for more information about that.

Jack Penkoske, Director of Manpower, Security, and Personnel for Tandberg Federal, a manufacturer and supplier of high definition video conferencing products, said he felt a natural responsibility to push the telework initiative and that over the last 3 years the company has been very active in the telework exchange and on the hill (sponsoring a lot of tools). But they also “eat their own dog food” or “practice what they preach,” allowing every employee that is eligible to telework to do just that. Tandberg also supplies those employees with the equipment they need free of charge to use at their home in order to telework back into the office and maintain that continuity both with their co-workers and their managers.

Jim Falcone, Chief of Agency Wide Services for the IRS, pointed out that the IRS has had a fairly robust telework program since 1998 and that 44% of the current workforce that is eligible to do so teleworks in one way or another on a regular basis (which works out to be about 20,000 employees per pay period). Then he spoke about the unique relationship that the IRS has with NTI. If you’ve never heard of NTI see NTI for Disabled Workers for some background about who they are and what they do. The IRS contracts with NTI, particularly to fill phone orders (for tax forms), allowing them to meet the surge during the peak tax season.

Charlie Wisecarver, Deputy Chief Information Office and Chief Technology Officer at the Department of State, pointed out that with employees all over the world, they have a unique opportunity and need for teleworkers. He thinks of himself as the enabler for telecommuters and teleworkers in Metro DC and all over the world, saying that Secretary Rice has been pushing to ensure diplomats around the world are able to securely communicate and accomplish their functions in the office from any location. In 268 countries around the world, diplomats are and need to be, by the very nature of the job, a truly mobile workforce.

Daniel Green, the Deputy Associate Director for Employee Policy at the OPM, spoke of how the U.S. Office of Personnel Management provides a leadership role for telework within the federal government as part of their overall work/life program. Telework is a major function of the OPM in cooperation and coordination with the GSA. And together, the OPM and the GSA offer Telework.Gov, which is a one-stop-shop for federal agencies (and the private sector) to get started in building their own telework programs. The site also offers some online training and offers information for the employee who might be interested in learning more about teleworking. Additionally, the OPM also collects information from other agencies every year on the degree to which they’ve implemented telework programs and then report their findings to Congress. The OPM also worked with Homeland Security, the State Department, and HHS a few years ago to create a telework guide (primarily for pandemic issues).

The rest of the show was devoted to asking each of the panelists to describe the benefits of having a good telework program, discuss any specific constraints they’ve faced and/or have yet to overcome, and finally, share any predictions for the future of telework and the mobile workforce at large.

Throughout the entire discussion, the prevailing theme was that despite still having some hurdles to overcome, telework is a win/win/win situation. The benefits of a good telework program are good for the agency (or company), good for the employee, and good for the public at large.

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