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How Government Managers Can Set Telework Expectations With Staff

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The growing popularity of telework has demonstrated qualitative and quantitative benefits in the workplace. "As a benefit, agencies are now seeing the expansion of telework really driving other efficiencies across the organization," says Mika Cross, a federal workplace expert employed at the Veterans' Employment and Training Service at the Department of Labor. 

No doubt, with more than 1 million federal employees (about 45 percent of federal employees) eligible for telework, more agencies are incorporating it. But how? 

"Telework should be implemented strategically, rather than piecemeal as is often the case. A reactive approach to telework carries the risk of raising fairness issues," advises OPM on the Telework.gov website. 


OPM reminds agency leaders that performance standards for teleworking employees must be the same as performance standards for employees who do not telework. Management expectations should be clearly addressed in the employee's performance plan, and the performance plans should be reviewed to ensure they do not create inequities or inconsistencies between teleworking and non-teleworking employees. 

"Like non-teleworking employees, teleworkers are held accountable for the results they produce. Good performance management techniques practiced by the manager will mean a smoother, easier transition to a telework environment," states OPM. 

On this front, OPM suggests agencies use a written telework agreement to define expectations. In addition to a general list of job tasks that will be performed while teleworking, the agreement also should outline the location of the telework office, equipment inventory, the telework schedule, emergency contact information, and so forth. 

More importantly, the telework agreement provides a framework for the necessary discussion between the manager and the employee about expectations. For both routine and situational telework, this discussion ensures both parties understand each other's expectations around basic issues, such as:

  • What technologies will be used to maintain contact?
  • What equipment is the agency providing? What equipment is the employee 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 updated about the schedule? What happens if the manager or employee needs to change the schedule?
  • What will the daily telework schedule be? Will the hours be the same as in the main office, or will they be different?
  • What are the physical attributes of the telework office, and do they conform to basic safety standards? (Agencies may wish to recommend the use of a self-certifying safety checklist.)
  • What are the expectations for availability by phone, email, and so forth?
  • 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?
  • Who is expected to telework in an emergency? What is expected of an employee in an emergency?
  • What happens if a telework day falls on a federal holiday? Is the employee allowed to substitute his or her telework day?

For more advice on how to make the most of your teleworking arrangements, check out Telework Basics. And for a deeper dive into this topic, read “Ready, Set, Telework” in the October issue of The Public Manager.

About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs, as well as ATD's government-focused magazine, The Public Manager. Contact her at rellis@td.org. 

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