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FCW : November and December 2015
work wound up spending the most time off-site. Specifically, employees who agreed with the statement, “Few people, if any, from my team work in the office much, so I do not benefit from coming in,” averaged 72 percent of their work time out of the office. For employees who did not feel that description applied to them, the aver- age was 27 percent. The authors concluded that some employees are fleeing their offices not because of telework’s benefits but just because the offices have emptied. A smaller, in-depth survey of 29 employees at the company uncovered some morale issues. “[Being] remote makes it hard to have the spontaneous dynamic inter- active discussions in the hallway,” one manager said. “Because people are spread out and working from home, we don’t have a sense of team.” “You used to have...established friendships and stuff at work that were a lot more close,” another employee said. “And now it’s just come to work, do your work and leave.... It’s not as friendly to come to work now.” The flip side: Management and Skype Despite the potential risks, there are both financial and personal upsides to telework — and govvies are bullish on the practice, as long as it’s effectively managed. Cheryl Cook, former CIO at the Agriculture Department and now chief innovation officer at the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, recalled the financial boon for the Forest Service when it went from three D.C.-area office buildings down to one thanks to telework. When Cook served as Pennsylvania director of the USDA’s Rural Develop- ment Mission Area, that organization was able to shrink from 42 offices to 12, a process that saved money even as it ensured that USDA officers were spread more evenly across the state by staying in their local zones. She also noted the personal benefits. When she worked at USDA headquar- ters, she faced a 220-mile roundtrip commute between D.C. and southeast- ern Pennsylvania. Teleworking one day every two weeks was a godsend for a woman who barely had time to sleep. “It’s tempting to say nothing can replace in-person collaboration,” Cook said, “but the truth is the additional sleep on days that I teleworked made me a clearer thinker and a better col- laborator with my staff, who were spread out all over the country and for the most part only knew me from the end of an email string anyway.” So how can telework be effectively managed? The General Services Administra- tion’s 18F recently dedicated a blog post to the subject. The prescription included over-communicating on tools such as GitHub, Slack and old- fashioned email; having face-to-face video chat meetings at least once a week; and collaborating as often and as extensively as possible. NASA Chief Human Capital Officer Lauren Leo, meanwhile, said clear per- formance expectations and manage- rial trust are the keys to effective tele- work. However, she noted that NASA is nowhere near the ghost-town scenario of Pratt and Rockmann’s study because only 2 percent of NASA employees tele- commute more than three days a week. Cook said the same principles that should guide a traditional organization can hold a teleworking office togeth- er: accountability, engagement and a shared sense of purpose. But according to the study, telework puts a strain on morale — something managers must watch. It can also fog an organization’s institutional memory. “Formal training often is sacrificed when budgets get tight, leaving newer employees more dependent than ever on more experienced co-workers for advice and informal training as issues arise,” Cook said. “If those more sea- soned employees are regularly not in the office several days per week, that window of opportunity closes a little.” “Telecommuting in a vacuum does have this life drain on people,” Leo said. Video chat sessions can help, but “in our experience, they won’t ever replace the face-to-face connection.” The study’s authors said their find- ings are an invitation for further con- sideration. “At the very least, off-site work is not the win-win situation it’s widely considered to be,” Pratt said. “If the office is going to become a collection of employees not working together, it essentially becomes no dif- ferent than a coffee shop (though per- haps with better Internet and worse coffee),” the authors wrote. n The same principles that should guide a traditional organization can hold a teleworking office together: accountability, engagement and a shared sense of purpose. November/December 2015 FCW.COM 33 1215fcw_032-033.indd 33 11/11/15 9:03 AM