In my experience, the federal government’s biggest challenge regarding telework is fully embracing the change needed to make such a program successful.  We often hear that even though policy allows broader telework participation, there’s a cultural divide amongst management that subtly discourages it, and agencies have consequently seen a low participation rate among eligible employees.  The term “telework” often has a negative perception, whereas “mobile workstyles” while on a business trip often has a positive perception. The principles and technology to enable both are the same, but the connotation still paints an unfair contrast.

From a teleworker’s perspective, there are challenges as well.  Finding an environment at home or close to home that is conducive to productivity is only the start.  Teleworkers must also have immediate access to the tools that they need such as conference calling, collaboration tools, and access to their own data and applications.  Frequently, teleworkers must use different technology than is used inside the office just to facilitate telework.  The lack of proper training to effectively use these tools results in a frustrating experience.  Without all the tools to telework effectively, users will quickly circumvent procedures and possibly create unnecessary risk.  This leads to new concerns within an agency such as sensitive data in personal cloud storage, wasted storage as users e-mail themselves files to work while at home, or sensitive data on an easily compromised home computer.

So high-level discussion aside, what are the main considerations when implementing a telework program? Aside from the obvious analysis and determination of goals, one must consider that telework should boost employee productivity with side benefits of employee satisfaction and reduced real estate costs.

The first step is to choose a technology strategy that meets the teleworkers’ expectations for productivity.  One must work within one’s budget, so selecting a portfolio of technology that provides the greatest flexibility is critical.  Allowing users to connect from home to their office computer at their desk is a cost-effective alternative to a full-featured virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) solution.  Providing remote access to agency-controlled apps is another cost-effective and secure alternative to traditional virtual private networks (VPNs).  Teleworkers also need reliable phones, conferencing tools, smart card readers, or other technology in order to use non-government furnished equipment computers.  Any technology that is chosen should be thoroughly tested and refined so teleworkers will have a positive experience.

The second step is to develop a thorough training plan that focuses on teleworking benefits at all management levels.  Managers’ acceptance and encouragement for employee participation is vital to its success.

The third step is for the CIO to provide detailed resources and training so that teleworkers understand the technology and procedures.  Workers will more likely participate in the program when they can use alternative collaboration tools inside and outside the office.  Technical support also must be equipped with the correct tools to assist remote workers long distance.

When all this is done, what’s left for agency CIOs is managing the inevitable culture change that comes along with telework adoption. Many government agencies fail to measure and communicate the success of a telework program from the teleworker’s perspective.  Within Citrix, a company that enables mobile workstyles, we encourage managers to use collaboration and remote access tools in their workday regardless of the location.  Managers must be committed to the idea that work is something you do and not somewhere you go.

Government telework will continue to increase in both participation and acceptance – as long as each agency focuses on the outcome of the effort itself instead of mandates and policy.  We will see a larger talent pool as government and contractor jobs move from one-day-per-week telework to several days per week, and even to full-time remote employees.  We hope to see participation and eligibility grow dramatically to rival the participation rates in commercial organizations.  It’s also reasonable to believe that the stigma around telework becomes more balanced, and that teleworking is no longer seen as an abuse of taxpayer dollars but rather as a standard work option.

And now passing over to you, my faithful readers—if your agency already has a telework program up and running, what has your experience been like? And for those still looking to adopt one, what if anything has been standing in your way?