Telework: Breaking New Ground: Successful Telework Programs Feature Active Top-Level Leadership, Clear Policy and Guidelines, Solid Program Support, and Integration in Overall Agency Planning

Article excerpt


Why and how do some federal telework programs succeed? Eight years as part of the leadership of federal telework at the General Services Administration (GSA) have shown me that when carefully planned and rigorously implemented few, if any, of these programs fail. This article discusses how success in federal telework stems from identifying practical and realistic program expectations, understanding the dynamics and measures of telework, and establishing useful and flexible policies and program design. Also required are implementation guidance, effective tools (including appropriate measures), program support, proactive senior leadership, and culture change.


The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) identified job performance as a key goal of its telework program, established clear policies to encourage maximum use, and bolstered the program with abundant support and aggressive top-level leadership. USPTO now has one of the largest telework programs in the federal government. As of October 2007, 3,609 employees were participating in some form of telework, an impressive 40.7 percent of the total USPTO workforce and 45.7 percent of total eligible employees. Examiners participating in one USPTO pilot telework program showed a productivity increase of 10 percent, with no difference in the quality of work. In 2003, examiners were so interested that the agency had to create a waiting list for participation in the pilot program. In part because of its use of telework, USPTO has been recognized by BusinessWeek magazine as one of the best places in America to launch a career or round one out and by Families magazine as one of the best places in the Washington area to work if you have a family.

USPTO positions are amenable to quantitative assessments of productivity, but many federal positions are not; recognizing this is another ingredient for program success. Over the years, research and assessments have shown that successful programs expect job performance simply to be undiminished. Combining this limited expectation with the other expected benefits more than adequately justifies telework implementation. As a result, these programs have consistently reported management satisfaction.

Program Flexibility

While home-based telework is fine for the majority of teleworkers, it does not work for those who have personal or work-related issues that require a setting different from their homes. Possible reasons include the home's not having a broadband Internet connection or suitable work environment, preference for group or collegial atmosphere, or simply needing to avoid distractions at home. To address this issue, Congress and GSA established a pilot project of telework centers in the Washington metropolitan area. These centers, managed by GSA, offer federal and nonfederal workers a convenient and effective telework alternative to working at home.

Center services and amenities include typical workstation and office equipment, Internet access, workspace options ranging from private and semiprivate offices to cubicles, and conference rooms with videoconferencing capability. Currently, the centers are located 16 to 80 miles from downtown Washington. They add the program flexibility needed to make telework an option for those who want to avoid the commute but still need to get out of the house. As a result, telework center users and center directors have been overwhelmingly positive about the added value and effectiveness of the centers as alternative workplaces.

Space Savings

Some successful agency programs--including those at GSA, the Department of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, and USPTO--identified facility space savings as a key expected telework benefit. These programs are characterized by aggressive top-level support, solid program design, and clear measures; all reported significant space savings and other successful results. …