My position at the Department of State deems me eligible to telework. We receive strong resistance to allow us to telework. Only when the Office of Personnel Management declares unscheduled telework days can we telework. On those days that OPM declares unscheduled teleworking, I have found it productive and less stressful. I was on scheduled leave during the most recent storm that hit the Washington metropolitan area. I had power and so did many of my co-workers who did telework.
I don’t understand the resistance from some managers. They don’t seem to understand the benefits of teleworking to the government and the department.
Meta R. Fitzgerald
I work for the National Institutes of Health. Outside of a regularly scheduled one-hour meeting each week, I could do my job totally from my home computer.
My department formally implemented a telework policy last year that allows us to work from home on an ad hoc basis. However, some supervisors in our department let their staff work from home frequently while others, like mine, enforce a stricter definition of “ad hoc.”
I have expressed interest about working from home on a regular basis, say one day a week to start. I was told by my supervisor not to bother applying for that because our department head is very much against it. He apparently thinks everyone should live close to their job. That’s kind of hard to do when you work in Bethesda and your wife works in Baltimore. Anyway, I spend an average of two hours driving back and forth to work every day from Columbia, time that could be used for many more constructive (and less destructive) things. Saving money on gas would be a nice bonus, also. I just get irritated when I hear news reports about the government expanding its telework policies, when in my department nothing changed — they were just forced to make it official with paperwork, but they’re still against teleworking.
National Institutes of Health
Although teleworking sounds logical, no one has done a cost-benefit study on whether it has created work efficiencies and lowered costs. In some personal cases it works well — I am grateful for it myself on occasion. But what is good for an employee may not be good for the agency. As a non-manager, I have seen negatives that no one has accounted for.
Here are some:
First, government has historically managed employees’ work by time, not product. The entire structure of personnel management in government has been built around whether the employee was at work during duty hours, not whether they actually produced a product. Making such a big change as this is both a structural change (changing and adjusting the working rules) and a cultural one (changing the way managers and employees interact). It cannot be done overnight.
Second, the claim that government will save money on physical space may be true over time, but it is unlikely today. A year ago my office moved to a new location with a multi-year lease. Then telework was announced, and now many cubicles are empty most of the time. Rent is still being paid whether we are here or not.
Third, there are many scientific studies that show communication is best when done face to face, as visual, auditory and physical cues work together to enhance meaning and comprehension.
Fourth, government has never been known for its efficiency, and home distractions and IT infrastructure can create two more impediments to productivity when teleworking. Without work metrics, how would a manager know if the activities of two small children, a wife, and two elderly parents (as one teleworking co-worker has at home all day) make him less productive than at the office?
Department of Veterans Affairs