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Teleworking Brings Benefits for Employees, Agencies

By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 13, 2001 – working from a home or another approved location closer to home -- is much more than just an employee perk. It brings concrete benefits to agencies as well.

Resistance to telework has a lot to do with the incorrect perception it's somehow a day off, Louise McDonough said. Studies, she noted, consistently show that productivity increases or at least is maintained when people work from home. A quality of life specialist in DoD's Office of Civilian Personnel Policy, McDonough said teleworking also enhances employee quality of life and boosts morale. This makes it an important recruiting and retention tool, she said.

An October 2000 public law required all Federal agencies to initially offer teleworking to at least 25 percent of eligible employees and to an additional 25 percent each fiscal year until 2004.

Allowing employees to work at home or in approved locations closer to their homes helps the environment by reducing traffic congestion and air pollution, McDonough said. Agency needs for parking facilities and transit benefits shrink.

An often-overlooked benefit is that agencies can tap the skills and other assets of people with disabilities, who might otherwise find traditional work places difficult to reach. "Many people with disabilities are extremely computer-proficient and have a wealth of skills to offer," McDonough said. "(Telework is) a tremendous opportunity for us."

DoD's program provides for eligible employees to telework on a regular and recurring basis, which officials define as at least one day per pay period.

The largest benefit to employees is obvious: In large metro areas, at least, they don't spend countless hours commuting to and from work, McDonough said.

"That savings in commuting time allows much more flexibility in terms of their balancing home and family life," she said. "A lot of American families pay a price for the length of time the breadwinners are out of the home. The time that's saved in commuting can otherwise be committed to meeting family and personal obligations."

McDonough stressed that managers should not rule out allowing teleworking based on a position's title, but should instead look closely at required tasks. Tasks that lend themselves to teleworking can be done on the day or days employees are allowed to work from home.

Tasks such as reading, research, writing, or computer-based work could be well suited to teleworking, she said. However, McDonough also noted that positions requiring frequent face-to-face contact with clients and entry-level or trainee positions that require direct supervision are generally not suitable for telework arrangements.

To the extent possible, Federal guidelines allow for agencies to provide teleworking employees with computers and other equipment to carry out their required tasks, McDonough said. This includes technical support from the agency.

And teleworking isn't just for civilian employees. DoD officials are working on a DoD directive to provide guidance for telework programs to be established for all DoD personnel -- including active duty and reserve component service members, McDonough said.

Performance evaluations for teleworking employees should be based on output rather than direct observation, she said. "A lot of the concern is, 'If I can't see my employee, how will I know what they're doing?'" she said. "The emphasis should be on what they're producing. Is it of a sufficient quality, and is it timely?"

This brings about a more results-based style of management, she said.

"It's clear the department is committed to this program at very senior levels," McDonough said. She stressed, however, that teleworking is not a right. "It can be terminated at will by either the employee or the supervisor," she said. "Participation in the program will be terminated if the employee's performance doesn't meet the prescribed standard or if the telework agreement fails to meet organizational needs."

The Office of Personnel Management, Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia and the Human Resources Management Council are sponsoring a nationwide telework satellite broadcast Nov. 14 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Eastern time. The target audiences include line managers, supervisors and employees. The show will discuss characteristics common to successful telework programs and offer strategies for overcoming telework barriers.

Broadcast coordinates are: Ku-Band, GE-3, Transponder 18 (Vertical), 87 degrees west longitude, 12060 mHz; and C- Band, Galaxy 3R, Transponder 5 (Horizontal), 95 degrees west longitude, 3800 mHz.

For more information on telework and the satellite broadcast, visit the federal telework information site at www.telework.gov.

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