Telework, as a business strategy, has changed the way the federal workforce operates by supporting mission achievement and goal fulfillment using a distributed workforce. The option to telework has had a positive impact on recruitment and retention of highly skilled employees, who value flexibility and work-life balance. The option to telework from locations outside the Washington metropolitan area has also expanded hiring pools for many agencies and organizations. New technology has positively affected telework as well. For example, VoIP, instant messaging, and document sharing help enable more effective communication between work teams, employees and managers, and customers.
To ensure the continued success of the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO’s) telework program, in 2016 the agency implemented several concrete steps to strengthen its support for managers and employees in areas of communication, collaboration, and training. Notably, the USPTO:
- Required all current teleworkers to review and electronically certify their specific telework guidelines. The computer-based training also contained important information on telework duties and responsibilities and reiterated telework best practices.
- Distributed a management handbook on telework.
- Offered “telework tune-ups” for business units that provide supervisory training on effectively managing a remote workforce.
- Convened patent and trademark examiners who telework remotely or are on-site at the regional offices as part of the Patents Training at Headquarters and Trademark Organization Reconnect and Collaboration Home programs, including breakout sessions on effective collaboration and telework.
However, telework has changed the way workforces are trained. Mobile workers require different proficiencies and skills, and consequently training platforms have changed. Trainers have become skilled in delivering training to distributed audiences and ensuring that engagement is maintained even though participants are not physically present. By incorporating the use of whiteboards, breakout rooms, and virtual group discussions, trainers can ensure that virtual participants are optimizing the training experience while maintaining a high level of engagement.
Additionally, because employees no longer need to travel to obtain “in-classroom” training, travel expenses are minimized. This virtual training allows for more flexibility of training dates and times, so training opportunities are maximized.
For a telework program to be successful, several considerations must be made. Leadership must make sure that telework is a vital business strategy with a quantifiable return on investment, and that the telework program is aligned with the agency’s mission and goals.
The agency should develop policy and procedures that clearly define the scope, authorities, background, definitions, eligibility, and responsibilities of those teleworking, and it must communicate these to all agency employees and executives.
Just as in all successful initiatives, telework should be a work-in-progress that changes and evolves with the growth of the agency. Position eligibility should be revisited annually, and all teleworking employees and managers of teleworkers should be required to take non-IT and IT training and recertify that their agreements are current on an annual basis.
To ensure continued success, consider having a telework working group with representatives from each business unit. These representatives should meet at least quarterly to discuss new practices and ideas and share telework highlights from their business unit. These individuals should be responsible for communicating quarterly statistics to their business unit executive. It’s also helpful to have a central website on the agency’s intranet page, where all telework policies, guidelines, research, and data pertaining to telework is housed.
The future of telework as a business strategy is bright. Organizations understand they must reduce their real estate footprint, reduce fuel consumption (and by extension, air pollution), enhance employee satisfaction, and recruit and retain valued employees. Telework is the most cost-effective means of accomplishing these goals while maintaining employee productivity and engagement.