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Agencies still face sizable challenges in overseeing their telework programs, including adapting to today’s bring-your-own-tech culture and managing a workforce that no longer needs or wants traditional office space
Telework won its reputation for maintaining government agencies’ uptime in the past decade by providing workers with the digital tools they needed to keep workgroups operating and de- vices secure through large and small disruptions.
During Snowzilla — last winter’s showcase storm that dumped two to three feet of snow on the Mid-Atlan- tic region and closed schools and of- fices for days — the General Services Administration said more than 3,600 of its 3,800 employees in the Wash- ington, D.C., area were eligible to telework.
Fairfax County, Va., government of- fices were forced to close, but more than 600 employees logged on via the county’s telework solution. “People here could still get to their apps to pro- vide support,” IT Infrastructure Direc- tor Jeff Porter said.
Yet despite making progress, agen- cies still face sizable challenges in overseeing their telework programs, including how to equip millennial workers conditioned to a bring-your- own-tech culture and how to guide a workforce that no longer needs or wants traditional office space.
Many agency telework leaders and market analysts see those challenges as interrelated and argue that a more unified approach is needed to revamp
how, when and where government em- ployees telework.
“For too long, telework has been deployed as a tactical solution to the problem du jour — i.e., snowstorms, reducing real estate costs, attracting talent,” said Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics. “That leads to very siloed execution that leaves a lot on the table in terms of results.”
Many agencies are taking a more holistic approach to addressing those demands, she added, and are begin- ning to see positive results in terms of employee retention, engagement and cost reductions.
Mika Cross, a federal telework poli- cy expert who has helped oversee tele- work transitions at several agencies in the past 20 years, also sees progress in using telework to integrate workforce management silos.
“It might have started as a way to save costs, [but] now you have con- versations taking place at the highest level of these agencies about telework as an integrated approach to solving issues relative to space utilization, hu- man capital, information technology strategies as well as costs savings,” she said.
“Ultimately, agencies are becom- ing more efficient because it forces the conversation on these questions,” Cross added.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has responded to workforce changes by tapping cross-department support from its IT, human resources and real estate teams to help man- age what officials call a workforce transformation.
FEMA’s plan expands its telework force and emphasizes the mobile tools and training employees need to do their jobs. “One of the keys is that ev- erybody has the technology required in order to be mobile,” FEMA CIO Adrian Gardner said.
By giving more employees the abil- ity to work anywhere using mobile de- vices and collaborative apps, they will require less long-term office space, which is prompting the agency to look for opportunities to “flatten” the con- ventional real estate it maintains.
As a result, FEMA has opted for a “hoteling” approach to its smaller workforce space. The approach in- volves restructuring standard offices as team rooms in a range of sizes and capabilities to accommodate more dy- namic meeting requirements.
For technology-enhanced collabora- tion, FEMA offers workers a range of connectivity applications to facilitate group meetings and one-on-one ses- sions, including Microsoft Lync (now Skype for Business), Adobe Connect, Citrix GoToMeeting and Cisco Jabber.
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