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Telework - What's your Experience?

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Lately I've seen a lot of debate in my agency centered around telework. The benefits have been well researched and it sounds like most people like the idea of telework (in theory), but it still seems to have some negative connotations around it. Just a few questions that have been discussed in our agency - not sure if the verdict is the same across the government.

- Do you think the 1102 series will continue to move toward significant (possibly 100%) telework? 

- Can Government employees be more productive/efficient while teleworking or is that just an excuse we throw out to keep the benefit?

- Do you allow and/or encourage contractors to work off-site as a means to save space and as a recruitment tool to obtain the best support?

- Industry partners: Do you notice a difference in your ability to work with federal counterparts between those who telework and those who don't?

- What are some of the more telework-friendly agencies you've seen for 1102 personnel?

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This article was in yesterday's Washington Post.  The interesting thing is GAO couldn’t substantiate benefits.

I think the 1102 series occupation is fine for telework in many cases.  Some limitations are high speed network access, security, and access to sensitive needed systems like financial.  There’s also questions of immediate telephone connections with industry sources.

The problem is a large share of the workforce abuse telework which hurts everybody.  There’s no easy fix.  One way is set productivity standards for employees but union involvement essentially kills that.  

 

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I think it’s great for teaming, especially for multidiscipline/cross-series project or program teams - - NOT!

I think that it promotes accountability- - NOT!

I think that it is easier to lead, supervise and provide training and support to your teleworking, full-time employees. The more employees, the better; especially those with little experience and lower self reliance and initiative - -NOT!

I think supervisors would be more effective if they telework, too — NOT!

Gosh, I don’t understand how the GAO isn’t able to establish the benefits of tele-“working” for full-time employees!

EDIT:  Disclosure - After retiring from full-time active civil service, I worked as a rehired annuitant - mostly from home -for nine years. My type of RA’s are paid on an hourly basis for the hours worked. I had no fixed work schedule. I kept daily timesheets in 15 minute increments. I only charged and was only paid for my actual working time.

l was fully trained and well experienced in the duties and type of work which I performed. My hourly cost charged to the Various programs I worked on was about 1/2 my previous active duty effective hourly rate (no fringe benefits, No Govt retirement Contribution costs, vacation, sick or holiday pay, etc. Total agency indirect and overhead Markup’s for RA’s was only about  20% vs. well over 100% before retirement.

There were no performance evaluations. I worked strictly at the agency’s discretion. 

It took a lot of personal honesty regarding hours worked. I could have easily -but didn’t - cheat on hours worked.

I just don’t see it working on a broad scale for active duty, full-time workforce of varying skill levels, motivation, maturity, levels of required supervision and oversight, etc. 

 

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I've done it for a few years now.  If you have to actually write something, or deeply focus on something, then you can't beat teleworking.  Huge benefit is that I'm sick and contagious, I can get some things done without infecting the whole office.  Can also get a few things done here and there if a kiddo is sick and you have to stay home to care for them.

It works fine for day-to-day work.

It stinks for work that required a lot of collaboration.  Overall a mixed bag, which is why I only do it once every two weeks.

I don't cheat, but I'm sure some people do.  Folks cheat when they are in the building too, though.

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I actually found the responses on this thread pretty funny - old school perception. Bill Gates said in an interview a few months, the number one benefit an employer could provide is flexibility.

Telework is awesome. If you can't be effective while telelworking I think it is more a personal limitation than a systematic telework issue.

Accountability should be based on results, not the presence in a chair - the attitude that a person has to be in a chair in the office so you know they're working vice reviewing their documents, talking to them on the phone regularly about current actions, etc. that is wrong with the Government and why it's hard to keep high performers in this field. A supervisor's effectiveness isn't based on if they're in the office or not. It's if they can lead their team to accomplish results. 

Do people abuse telework? Probably. Do people abuse 'smoke breaks?' Probably.

We are generally supposed to be writing contracts in results based fashion - non-prescriptive in the how, as long as i get the result I need. Telework is the epitome of results based performance. If you can't figure out how to be effective with telework then don't do it. But don't think that because you are unable to be effective with telework means everyone is unable to be effective with it. 

I telework twice a week right now. I have had clients send numerous complementary emails to my supervisor about issues I have resolved, actions I have issued, and business advice I have given, all while I was teleworking. They had no idea I wasn't in my cube doing my job - none! If you can't manage with telework, maybe it says something about your capabilities, not the employees'.

Telework saves me my commute, having to get ready to go to work, allows me to get online earlier, cuts down on traffic congestion, etc.

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My personal experience with telework (as a non-Fed) has generally been positive. As previously noted above, I find it much easier to concentrate at home rather than in the shared office/hoteling situation I was in at my last job. I never knew who I was going to be sitting with and it was a real crapshoot. Some folks were fine, others would spend all day on the personal phone calls. My current work situation is a more or less "open" office plan, which I am not a fan of. I am lucky insofar as the folks that sit around me are pretty quiet, but there is no way to have a discussion, in person or on the phone, without disturbing those around you. Needless to say, conference rooms are in high demand around here. 

Collaboration can also be an issue, but there are plenty of options out there to bridge that gap. Microsoft Teams, Adobe Connect, Skype for Business and many other IT solutions offer you the ability to see and talk to your colleagues no matter where they are sitting. It is mostly about you and your organization making collaboration a priority and then enforcing it. 

I worked from home full time for about 6 months and then approximately once a week since then (going on 7 years now) and it seems to me that it all comes down to the individual and their management. Work flexibility shouldn't be a given, you should have to prove to your supervisor that you can handle it. My last two jobs had a 6 month no work from home policy followed by managers discretion and in both cases I proved to my supervisors that I could be trusted. When pinged on IM, I answer right away. They never receive complaints from the teams I support, because I do my job when I work from home, along with some laundry :). At this point, I work from home when I need/want to. I generally keep it to no more than once a week because I both value and require time in the office in order to do my job well. Several of my colleagues work remote full time and, generally speaking, they are top notch. It certainly won't work for every position or every person, but it's a low cost benefit to provide that most people appreciate and use wisely. 

 

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2 hours ago, Gonzo said:

My current work situation is a more or less "open" office plan, which I am not a fan of. I am lucky insofar as the folks that sit around me are pretty quiet, but there is no way to have a discussion, in person or on the phone, without disturbing those around you. Needless to say, conference rooms are in high demand around here. 

I hope we can all agree that open offices and cubicles are bad.  I've never had a proper office at work, it just struck me that I'd actually be able to concentrate here if I had a door I could actually close.

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I've had both the positive and negative results with telework.  I was a director of a contracting activity that went to 4-days a week telework. I then went to an agency where teleworking was more limited.  Here are some of the pluses and minuses from my experience.

Plus - Productivity increased dramatically.  No lost time BS'ing around the office about who won the game or who got voted off Survivor.  People were better able to focus on their projects.  Made evaluations based on performance so no real issues there (just because you see a butt in the seat doesn't mean they're working).  Sick leave usage dropped.  How many times have you been too sick to get dressed up and drive into the office but not too sick to be productive?  This way you can stay in your jammies and still get work cranked out.  

Minus - No opportunity to learn from others' experiences.  The amount of knowledge that can be gained by hearing others talk about an issue you are also facing is immense.  Also, no chance to build/shape an organizational culture which is often vital when trying to implement change.  Tough to integrate new employees into the workforce.

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2 hours ago, apsofacto said:

I hope we can all agree that open offices and cubicles are bad.  I've never had a proper office at work, it just struck me that I'd actually be able to concentrate here if I had a door I could actually close.

Most people at a prior job worked in open areas but there were a few offices.  There was always lobbying over who got the offices.  Then we had a major expansion and office renovation.  Fortunately my boss was in charge of agency facilities and understood procurement.  Just about everyone got a private office after the renovation.  But the lobbying and jockeying for offices didn’t stop - only a few got windows so that became the next controversy.

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14 hours ago, formerfed said:

Fortunately my boss was in charge of agency facilities and understood procurement.  Just about everyone got a private office after the renovation.

It probably helped his case that cubicles are expensive and the vendors kill you on relocations  and reconfigurations for years afterward too.  I think they were invented to reduce the possibility of heavy petting (ahem!) at work.  Only a theory!

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1 hour ago, apsofacto said:

It probably helped his case that cubicles are expensive and the vendors kill you on relocations  and reconfigurations for years afterward too.  I think they were invented to reduce the possibility of heavy petting (ahem!) at work.  Only a theory!

Cubicles are a big step above open plan and are MUCH more adaptable and less expensive than to add/delete/move hard wall  offices.

Even nicer, We once built a 3 Star Army HQ facility with demountable full height wall partitions for individual offices, capable of being adapted on 5 or 10 foot grids. The areas had raised floors with adaptable underfloor comm and electrical, etc. With the typical, frequent reorganizations and functional changes for DoD administrative offices, it was a great solution.

Higher first cost but lowest life cycle cost. i highly recommend this approach, especially for Air Force facilities, which would usually change after contract award, during construction at least once. Delays and impact cost growth frequent and common on almost every project. Air Force plays “musical Commanders”. They come and go, with no accountability for decisions made by the previous bosses. 

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19 minutes ago, joel hoffman said:

Cubicles are a big step above open plan

Agreed!

19 minutes ago, joel hoffman said:

less expensive than to add/delete/move hard wall  offices.

I'm still skeptical on this, we dealt with these folks back in the day.  It means a lot that you vouch for cubicles, Joel, so I took mine out of the catapult.  For now. ^_^

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Agree with Joel about cubes being better than open offices and I like the sound of the office he helped build for the Army HQ. That kind of adaptability sounds very useful.

My current office actually just completed the transition from old school cubes that had walls about 5 feet high that completely surrounded you to new-fangled cubes that have walls that are so short I make accidental eye contact with the guy that sits on the other side of the wall from me while sitting in my chair all of the time. It is extremely awkward for both of us.

We are also organized in "pods" of 4 people, which means that we all face our respective corners with an open space between/behind us. It's just odd. I'm also skeptical of the cost/space savings. In our case, I suspect it was driven by aesthetic considerations that were papered over with talk of "collaboration" and the "need" for more visitor's seats since we have lots of people coming in from our overseas offices. 

I've only had an office with a door for about 25% of the time that I've been working in contracts. I definitely miss it. Broke down a couple of months ago and bought a nice pair of noise canceling headphones, which do help. 

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The original questions were not about the differences between open space/cubicle, but thanks for the opinions nonetheless. 

While anecdotal, it seems most folks here are in agreement that telework should be on a case-by-case basis depending on the employee and their results. It also sounds like some generational differences are at the root of some of the responses?

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If hardwall offices are preferred for new spaces, then the demountable, full height partitions and raised floor with underfloor utilities and comm. are the way to go.

apsofacto, since you are concerned about cost of relocations and reconfigurations of cubicles, then permanent, hardwall offices might not be a good solution for your organization either. Those are extremely expensive to tear out and replace or reconfigure. They aren’t adaptable like cubicles or the demountable office walls with overhead tracks on grids. With raised floor, it is relatively easy to move comm and electrical outlets, etc. 

Raised floor also works great with cubicles. 

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18 hours ago, Captain22 said:

While anecdotal, it seems most folks here are in agreement that telework should be on a case-by-case basis depending on the employee and their results.

Ah, the problem from the supervisor’s and organization’s point of view is - the issues of selective choices for whom to allow to telework.  I definitely agree that it won’t work to allow everyone to telework.

It also depends upon the nature of the work and how much “real” face to face interaction and collaboration are necessary. And I don’t mean talking to somebody on a monitor, FaceTiming on an iPhone or texting. Yep - it’s an generational issue.  

In my last full-time employee position, our Program Directorate was reorganized from stovepipe Divisions for contracting, legal, engineering, program management, construction, etc. to interdisciplinary project teams To execute individual site projects (major DoD Level I Program). I was one of three supervisors with 14 employees myself. Constant teaming and Partnering interaction with lots of TDY, site visits and interaction with all project stakeholders within and outside of DoD. These were seven individual Systems Contracts, across the US and in Russia, each costing over $1 Billion.

No one worked in a vacuum.  Robust Teaming was essential.

That is in contrast to my teleworking duties as a rehired annuitant on a Headquarters USACE Program Management Team for the Army MILCON Transformation Program

Telephone, computer and email were the daily modes of communications with other team members and personnel worldwide. Monthly and quarterly conferences, meetings and site visits were handled by TDY.

That is an example of where teleworking can be successfully accomplished.

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My case is unique in that I work remotely 100% of the time; my boss is in different state than the one where my office is located, about 200 miles away.  Everyday is a kind of telework as the clients that I service all send their documents to me via email and other document handling systems save one, my office is located in that one client who brings me their documents by hand.

I have seen my supervisor face to face about 2-3 time per year since I took this job, one year it was zero times when she was going through a health issue.  I see my clients face to face (other than the client that is hosting my office), about 5-10 times per year when I visit their offices for meetings, small business conferences and other seminars.  A few clients that are remote from my office (travel required), I see maybe once per year depending on when and where the DoD Small Business Conference is held.

That said, I can pretty much work from my office or at home with no change of productivity or work tempo.  My host client just upgraded my computer to a laptop from a desktop so that I can work from home using their IT system as well as my employer's system since my cancer is forcing me to work from home a bit more often, primarily because of broken bones which is an effect of Multiple Myeloma.

Probably the worst telework problem is how the IT people handle connecting my employers laptop to my home internet provider.  My house has all the required protection, firewall, virus protection, spam protection, etc., but the IT system in my organization will set up an update and then when the laptop reboots, my employer's IT system will kick the laptop out of the system forcing me to travel 115 miles to the nearest local network for my employer to re-sync the PIV card to the computer.  I have refused to do that lately, so they have figured a way to sync the laptop from my home office, but not my home.  My home office is 6 miles from my house, which is better than 115 miles.

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I have a bit of experience with teleworking, both in industry and as a federal employee.  My first industry job after military retirement was a full-time telework position. I did that for about 2 1/2 years. I later worked for a DoD 4th estate agency that had a pretty liberal telework policy.  For my first 6 months or so with the DoD agency, I teleworked full time as there was just not enough office space for some of us.  Once they located office space, we teleworked one day per pay period.

In theory telework sounds good. But it requires a lot of self-discipline, even for those who are considered top level performers in the office. Teleworking from home can be subject to a lot of distractions that you don't have at work, at least that was my experience.  People prone to abuse their time at work (e.g. smoke breaks, chat breaks, etc.) are likely more prone to do so while teleworking.  One 1102 I worked with, who was considered a top notch employee by her supervisor, referred to her telework Friday as "FO Friday".  I will let you figure out what FO means. I got the impression that many people who teleworked felt the same as her.  

Overall, I think the performance risks of telework outweigh the benefits, but I am old school. 

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Probably the work of patent examiners and trademark attorneys is fairly close to that of a senior contract specialists, at least in the pre-award area.  Assignments are made to employees, they process cases doing lots of analytical tasks and critical thinking, have phone conversations and emails with applicants and government SME’s, and make decisions on whether to grant patents and trademarks.  

Telework is largely successful.  https://www.uspto.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Telework_Annual_Report_2018 508 Compliant.pdf
The largest glitch is time and attendance abuse noted by the IG.

But their work doesn’t involve planning, strategic thinking, facilitating, doing presentations, working in a team role, collaborating, etc.  if a contracts office just wants to knock out contracts, telework seems fine.  

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I worked for a major contractor that studied the concept and found working from home it to be profitable and productive to do so for entire groups of overhead employees. It closed and perhaps sold related buildings...no more brick and mortar overhead costs, for example.  About 5 years later, it reverse itself and required those employees to report to company facilities. By that time, some employees moved away from company facilities and moved on with other things in their lives such that it was a hardship and disruption to go back to a nearby facility. I recall being told the major rationale was Silicon Valley employees don't do that because they found face to face collaboration to be essential. I personally thought that was not the prime motive.

.   

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18 hours ago, joel hoffman said:

Ah, the problem from the supervisor’s and organization’s point of view is - the issues of selective choices for whom to allow to telework.  I definitely agree that it won’t work to allow everyone to telework.

It also depends upon the nature of the work and how much “real” face to face interaction and collaboration are necessary. And I don’t mean talking to somebody on a monitor, FaceTiming on an iPhone or texting. Yep - it’s an generational issue.  

In my last full-time employee position, our Program Directorate was reorganized from stovepipe Divisions for contracting, legal, engineering, program management, construction, etc. to interdisciplinary project teams. Each ten executed individual site projects (major DoD Level I Program). I was one of three supervisors with 14 employees myself. Constant teaming and Partnering interaction with lots of TDY, site visits and interaction with all project stakeholders within and outside of DoD. These were seven individual Systems Contracts, across the US and in Russia, each costing over $1 Billion.

No one worked in a vacuum.  Telework for anyone was not an option. Robust Teaming was essential.

That is in contrast to my teleworking duties as a rehired annuitant on a Headquarters USACE Program Management Team for the Army MILCON Transformation Program

Telephone, computer and email were the daily modes of communications with other team members and personnel worldwide. Monthly and quarterly conferences, meetings and site visits were handled by TDY.

That is an example of where teleworking can be successfully accomplished.

 

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There was a news report on radio this morning of a research study about loneliness. They indicated that 78% of Gen Z and 71% of Gen Xers report that they are Lonely. It was felt that one cause was extensive use Of and exposure to social media. They also report problems relating to co-workers.

Supposedly less than half of Baby Boomers felt lonely...

Here is another article with somewhat different but similar data. 
https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.cnbc.com/amp/2020/01/23/loneliness-is-rising-younger-workers-and-social-media-users-feel-it-most.html 

at any rate loneliness is reportedly on the rise especially for younger workers and social media seems to be a related factor.

Im finding more people who won’t answer the phone and who don’t return phone calls; some say not to leave a message but to text; some don’t read email, only texts. It’s the sound bite Information Age...

it only been in the last couple of years where USACE employees are allowed to text.  

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I am old school. Need to be at the office for focus and sound-boarding when I need. Nothing against tele-work though. Know a lot of people that do their best work from a quiet/controlled space. That being said, it is hard (for some employees) to hold them accountable for the government. P&G and other companies have key-stroking software to track actual production. Wish we could do it, but the union is a problem there. 

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