[New OPM Director John Berry announced a comprehensive plan to jumpstart agency telework programs out of a plodding first gear into a cruising fifth gear, giving tens-of-thousands more Federal employees nationwide the opportunity to work from home. Today, only 5 percent of 1.9 million Federal employees telework.
Berry’s plan to substantially increase telework participation consists of five components that, when taken together, form the basis for establishing effective telework programs that can be tailored to each agency’s unique culture. Berry said he will call upon agencies to set up appeals boards that review whether employees can telework–even if their supervisors say they can’t. Details of how the boards will work remain to be ironed out.
Below is an excerpt from the OPM issuance, A Guide to Telework in the Federal Government.]
To comply with telework legislation, managers must be committed to using telework to the fullest extent possible. Beyond the basic requirements, managerial skill, participation, and support can make telework a real asset to an organization. To effectively implement a telework program, managers should accomplish the following:
Determine Employee Eligibility
Generally, agencies have discretion to determine telework eligibility criteria for their employees. These criteria should be detailed in agency policy. Individual managers should assess who is and who is not eligible in their workgroup based on these eligibility guidelines and any applicable collective bargaining agreements. Some agencies may provide managers additional discretion in deciding whether to grant or deny a request to telework from an eligible employee, based on additional factors such as staffing or budget.
All employees are considered eligible for telework except the following:
Employees whose positions require, on a daily basis (i.e., every work day), direct handling of secure materials or on-site activity that cannot be handled remotely or at an alternative worksite, such as face-to-face personal contact in some medical, counseling, or similar services; hands-on contact with machinery, equipment, vehicles, etc.; or other physical presence/site dependent activity, such as forest ranger or guard duty tasks; and
Employees whose last performance rating of record (or its equivalent) is below fully successful (or the agency’s equivalent) or whose conduct has resulted in disciplinary action within the last year. (NOTE: Agencies may require a rating of record higher than fully successful for eligibility, but must still report as eligible all employees rated fully successful or higher.)
Understand and Assess the Needs of the Workgroup
Telework is often implemented piecemeal, rather than strategically, as individuals request arrangements. This reactive approach carries the risk of raising fairness issues, with decisions about telework arrangements being made on a first-come, first-served basis. Telework should be implemented strategically, taking into account the needs and work of the group, rather than granting or denying telework requests one by one. Employees should participate in the process and may be asked to help formulate possible solutions to issues that may arise.
Create Signed Agreements
The teleworker and his or her manager should enter into a written agreement for every type of telework, whether the employee teleworks regularly or not. The parameters of this agreement are most often laid out by the agency policy and/or collective bargaining agreement, but should include certain key elements (see OPM’s How to Be an Effective Teleworker). Most importantly, the agreement should be signed and dated by the manager. Managers should keep copies of all telework agreements on file.
Telework agreements are living documents and should be revisited by the manager and teleworker and re-signed regularly, preferably at least once a year. At a minimum, new telework agreements should be executed when a new employee/manager relationship is established.
OPM strongly recommends any individuals asked to telework in the case of a Continuity of Operations (COOP) event or a pandemic health crisis have a telework agreement in place that provides for such an occurrence. Such individuals also should practice teleworking on a regular basis as much as possible.
Base Denials on Business Reasons
Telework requests may be denied and telework agreements may be terminated. Telework is not an employee right, even if the employee is considered “eligible” by OPM standards and/or the individual agency standards.
Denial and termination decisions must be based on business needs or performance, not personal reasons. For example, a manager may deny a telework agreement if, due to staffing issues, an employee who otherwise has portable duties must provide on-site office coverage. In this case, and whenever applicable, the denial or termination should include information about when the employee might reapply, and also if applicable, what actions the employee should take to improve his or her chance of approval. Denials should be provided in a timely manner. Managers should also review the agency’s negotiated agreement(s) and telework policy to ensure they meet any applicable requirements.
Managers should provide affected employees (and keep copies of) signed written denials or terminations of telework agreements. These should include information about why the arrangement was denied or terminated. OPM tracks the numbers of agreements denied and/or terminated, as well as the reasons for such an action; therefore, copies should be given to the agency telework coordinator as well.
Bargaining unit employees may file a grievance about the denial or cancellation of a telework agreement through the negotiated grievance procedure.
Use Good Performance Management Practices
Managers often ask, “How do I know what my employees are doing when I can’t see them?” Performance standards for off-site employees are the same as performance standards for on-site employees. Management expectations of a teleworker’s performance should be clearly addressed in the telework agreement. As with on-site employees, teleworkers must, and can, be held accountable for the results they produce. Good performance management techniques practiced by a manager will mean a smooth, easy transition to a telework environment. Resources for performance management are available from OPM at www.opm.gov/perform.
The telework agreement (see How to Be an Effective Teleworker for key elements) provides a framework for the discussion that needs to take place between the manager and the employee about expectations. For both routine and emergency telework, this discussion is important to ensure the manager and the employee understand each other’s expectations around basic issues such as the following:
How will the manager know the employee is present? (Signing in, signing off procedures may be needed.)
How will the manager know the work is being accomplished?
What technologies will be used to maintain contact?
What equipment is the agency providing? What equipment is the teleworker providing?
Who provides technical assistance in the event of equipment disruption?
What will the weekly/monthly telework schedule be? How will the manager and co-workers be kept updated about the schedule? Do changes need to be pre-approved?
What will the daily telework schedule be? Will the hours be the same as in the main office?
What are the physical attributes of the telework office, and do they conform to basic safety standards?
What are the expectations for availability (phone, e-mail, etc.)?
What is the expectation regarding the amount of notice (if any) given for reporting to the official worksite, and how will such notice be provided?
How is a telework agreement terminated by management or an employee?
Facilitate Communication with All Members of the Workgroup
Teleworking and non-teleworking employees must understand expectations regarding telework arrangements, including coverage, communication, and responsibilities. Although individual teleworkers must take responsibility for their own availability and information sharing, managers should ensure methods are in place to maintain open communication across the members of a workgroup.
Remain Equitable in Assigning Work and Rewarding Performance
Managers should avoid distributing work based on “availability” as measured by physical presence, and avoid the pitfall of assuming someone who is present and looks busy is actually accomplishing more work than someone who is not on-site. Good performance management practices are essential for telework to work effectively and equitably.
Make Good Decisions about Equipment
In FMR Bulletin 2006-B3, Guidelines for Alternative Workplace Arrangements (a link is available at www.telework.gov ), GSA provides guidelines for the equipment and support an agency may provide teleworkers. Generally, decisions are made by the agency or by individual managers regarding the ways in which teleworkers should be equipped. Managers should familiarize themselves with these guidelines and also with their agency’s policy on equipment. Within those constraints, the challenge for managers is finding the right balance of budget, security, and effectiveness. Factors to consider include technology needs based on the work of the employee, agency security requirements, and budget constraints.
Practice, Practice, Practice
The success of an organization’s telework program depends on regular, routine use. Experience is the only way to enable managers, employees, IT support, and other stakeholders to work through any technology, equipment, communications, workflow, and associated issues that may inhibit the transparency of remote work. Individuals expected to telework in an emergency situation should, with some frequency, telework under non-emergency circumstances as well.