The Federal Coach: Rethinking the Workplace in the 21st Century

As the director of the Partnership for Public Service's Center for Government Leadership, I spend a lot of time interacting with federal leaders about a wide range of management issues. In my discussion with these leaders, there is one topic that consistently comes up: teleworking.
Yet with all the talk from federal managers and their employees about the desirability of teleworking in government, it has led to insufficient progress and action. In fact, the federal government who, once a leader in teleworking and other work flexibilities, has lost its momentum with less than six percent of the 1.9 million federal workforce -- about 102,900 employees -- teleworking at least one day a month.

One of the major barriers to implementing telework in federal agencies is the assumption by managers that the physical presence of employees equals strong performance. They believe better performance measures are often not available to them. However, it's important that federal managers remember that performance is measured by productivity and results, not by face time.

When strategically deployed, teleworking and other flexible work arrangements can help improve employee performance, job satisfaction, and work-life balance, and decrease the costs of commuting by getting employees off the road on scheduled days of the week or by allowing for nontraditional hours that can result in shorter commutes.

Furthermore, with thousands of federal employees eligible to retire and our government in critical need of specialized professional skills, this is a critical time for federal agencies to change the way flexible work arrangements are viewed. To attract and retain the best talent, federal agencies need to use flexible programs as a strategic tool.

The key for federal managers is to design a teleworking policy that makes the most of your employees' time and efforts. With October marking National Work & Family Month, here are four tips for effective implementation in your office:

Forget about the old ways.
Before entering the fray of telecommuting, you'll need to banish thoughts of your employees sitting around in their pajamas watching game shows all day. Quite the contrary. Research shows that telecommuting employees work longer hours because they've avoided wasting time sitting in traffic.

Establish the rules.
The expectations for telecommuting employees and for managers should be crystal clear. At the outset, define employee accessibility during work hours, office coverage, unexpected mission-critical work demands and procedures to deal with abuse. As with leadership in any situation, articulating expectations is critical.

Focus on outcomes, not face time.
Work output and positive outcomes are the measure of value, not face time. You'll need to engage in the hard work of ) determining which jobs are appropriate for teleworking and identifying concrete performance measures to ensure that they're achieving your team's goals while out of the office. In other words, trust but verify.

Show them the money.
Reducing the amount of people in the office means reducing the amount of office space and equipment you need, which in turn reduces spending. I don't know of a boss who wouldn't be impressed with your ability to cut costs especially when that's paired with better results. Make sure you build in the cost-benefits into your budget, including the costs of any technology needs.

One example of a successful government telework program is the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), where 82 percent of eligible employees telework. Or check out the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), where one employee moved to Kenya when her husband was transferred there. She has been working remotely from Africa since the move and meeting or exceeding all of her obligations, according to James McDermott, the NRC's director of human resources.