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The Federal Coach

Rethinking the workplace in the 21st century

Sometimes the sign of good leadership is an ability to see challenges as opportunities rather than roadblocks to success.

Case in point: telework.

It can be tempting as a manager to assume that workers who are not present are not productive. One agency head recently told one of my colleagues: "People come to the office and do nothing. I want those kinds of employees inconvenienced by having to come into the office. I don't want them working in the comfort of their homes."

Yet, with the ever-increasing demands on government, leaders must learn to adapt to the new century and start rethinking when, how and where work is done. The bottom line is simple: it's not where you are, but what gets accomplished that counts.

While a great deal has been written about the benefits to individuals, avoiding long commutes and improving work-life balance, implementing an effective telework arrangement can save the government money on overhead, provide better citizen services by extending hours, ensure continuity of operations during regional and national emergencies and improve worker performance.

Of course, not every job lends itself to teleworking, and employees do not have to be out of the office every single day. But teleworking offers managers an important tool that is going underutilized in government.

The key is to design a teleworking policy that makes the most of your employees' time and efforts. Here are a few 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 (1) determining which jobs are appropriate for teleworking and (2) 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.

What about your examples? Have you seen effective telework in action? What are the pitfalls federal leaders need to avoid when implementing a teleworking plan? Send me your comments and ideas to fedcoach@ourpublicservice.org, and I'll post them online.

Please check back on Friday, when I answer your questions about telework and other leadership challenges in government.

By Tom Fox

 |  July 7, 2010; 5:12 PM ET |  Category:  Getting Ahead Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Senator Kaufman: 'Your word is your bond' | Next: Walking in another's shoes

Comments

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Tom,
Noone is buying it. You know that most government jobs are just place holders to prop up senior positions. We all know that 75% of the work that is done is of no value and only about 20% of the work force produces that 25% that is worth something. So, you now want to let these unproductive Federal mooches sit at home and engage in more meaninless activity - and do their laundry at the same time. I know how we could save even more money. Just stop doing all that pointless activity and fire 75% of the Federal work force. TADA - savings.

Posted by: concernedcitizen57 | July 13, 2010 10:26 AM

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