Feds talk: What is telework really like?


(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
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On Monday, we asked federal employees to share their thoughts about teleworking, something the government has been pushing for years as a way to prevent work stoppages during bad weather, reduce management costs and help workers balance their work duties with personal responsibilities.

Our questions focused on how employees spend their days at home and whether they are more or less productive while doing their jobs away from the office, as well as their overall perceptions of teleworking.

MORE: Federal workers, take our ongoing survey

By Tuesday, we had more than 114 responses. Not everyone was convinced of the virtues of telework, but the overwhelming majority of responders — more than 90 percent — expressed positive views.

Silver Spring resident Bethany Miller, who works for the Health and Human Services’ child-welfare program, said she normally starts her job earlier and ends later when she is home, adding that she feels less distracted and accomplishes more.

“With no one to swing by my desk to chat, I am able to focus for longer periods of time, with fewer interruptions or distractions,” Bethany said. “I am also motivated to show something for my work so there is not the perception that I didn’t get anything done.”

Philadelphia resident Charles Kufs, a business analyst with the General Services Administration, had similar experiences. “I have the quiet and privacy that I can’t get in the office,” he said, adding that he is “much more productive” at home.

Kufs also said he tends to take longer breaks while teleworking, but that he puts in longer days.

Other federal workers said they find it tough to work from home.

“Just too many distractions for me,” said a U.S. Geological Survey scientist who asked to remain anonymous. “It may work for some, particularly those who spend a long time on commute. But it does not work for me.”

Saving on commute times was a recurring theme in the responses. Lynn Miller, a Beallsville, Md. resident and economist with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said telework eliminates three-hours of daily travel to and from her office.

“It’s brilliant,” the 23-year federal employee said. “I stayed with the government because of telework. I’ve been able to spend time with my kids, be there for them most of the time and get a ton of work done in peace and quiet.”

In terms of productivity, Lynn said her supervisors measure her progress by how much she accomplishes, regardless of whether she works from home or not. She said she is “significantly more productive” while teleworking.

Colorado Springs, Colo., resident Lee Espino, a Defense Department auditor, said he tends to work a bit slower from home, mainly because he can’t access files as quickly as usual.

Espino added that he suspects some federal employees may be abusing the telework option. “I have heard people say they take care of kids or family members when they are suppose to be teleworking,” he said. “Teleworking rules strictly forbid taking care of kids or family members as a reason to telework.”

Similar to Espino, NOAA scientist Dan Winester, of Longmont, Colo., said he is “much less productive, due to lack of hand-on information (paperwork or computer files) and due to more distractions at home.”

But other employees said they have no problems with logistics from home.

“We have workstations that are docked laptops that we can use on our telework days,” said Fort Meade, Md. resident Robert O’Brien, a security analyst with the Office of Personnel Management. “It uses a secure VPN to connect to our agencies Lan/Wan so basically have all connections we need to do the same work we would do in our cubicles. Plus they give us Blackberries to do conference calls and work-related calls.”

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks@washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics for more federal news. E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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