Laptops fill a table as part of a U.S. Transportation Command telework initiative at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, April 15, 2020. USTRANSCOM’s Control, Communications and Cyber Systems Directorate were adding software and imaging laptops to issue to command members for official telework use to continue global mission operations while protecting personnel health during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Michelle Gigante)

Key Practices That Can Help Ensure the Success of Telework Programs

During the COVID-19 pandemic, federal agencies have used telework as a strategy to help them continue their work in trying circumstances. The Government Accountability Office assembled its past work on federal telework to provide information that can help agencies improve their telework programs.

GAO testified on key practices in 7 categories, including:

Performance management. For example, agencies should ensure that teleworkers and non-teleworkers are held to the same performance standards.

Training. For example, training helps keep workers and managers on the same page.

Technology. For example, addressing access and security issues help telework run smoothly.

The Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 (the act) defines telework as a work flexibility arrangement under which an employee performs the duties and responsibilities of their position and other authorized activities from an approved worksite other than the location from which the employee would otherwise work. GAO previously identified key practices in telework-related literature and guidelines that federal agencies should implement in ensuring successful telework programs. These key practices may be grouped under seven categories.

  • Program planning. Consistent with a key practice GAO identified, agencies are required to have a telework managing officer. Other key practices related to planning for a telework program include establishing measurable telework program goals, and providing funding to meet the needs of the telework program.
  • Telework policies. Agencies can help ensure their workforces are telework ready by establishing telework policies and guidance. To ensure that teleworkers are approved on an equitable basis, agencies should establish eligibility criteria, such as suitability of tasks and employee performance. Agencies should also have telework agreements for use between teleworkers and their managers.
  • Performance management. Agencies should ensure that the same performance standards are used to evaluate both teleworkers and nonteleworkers. Agencies should also establish guidelines to minimize adverse impacts that telework can have on nonteleworkers.
  • Managerial support. For telework programs to be successful agencies need support from top management. They also need to address managerial resistance to telework.
  • Training and publicizing. Telework training helps agencies ensure a common understanding of the program. The act requires agencies to provide telework training to employees eligible to telework and to managers of teleworkers. Keeping the workforce informed about the program also helps.
  • Technology. Agencies need to make sure teleworkers have the right technology to successfully perform their duties. To that end, agencies should assess teleworker and organization technology needs, provide technical support to teleworkers, and address access and security issues.
  • Program evaluation. Agencies should develop program evaluation tools and use such tools from the very inception of the program to identify problems or issues. Agencies can then use this information to make any needed adjustments to their programs.

GAO has previously reported instances where selected agencies faced challenges implementing telework programs that aligned with key practices. For example, three of four selected agencies did not require review or document their review of ongoing telework agreements. These reviews are important to provide assurance that the agreements reflect and support their current business needs. GAO also previously reported that managers at three of four selected agencies were not required to complete telework training before approving staff’s telework agreements. The training is important to ensure managers fully understood agency telework policy and goals before approving or denying requests to telework.

Read the GAO report

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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