Working Virtually—Challenges and Benefits

By Ruth Anne Randolph

With the blizzard that hit the Washington DC area earlier this year, estimates of the cost of lost productivity among federal government agencies totaled $550,000,000 for one lost week.  When people cannot physically get to their offices, current technology offers multiple options to allow staff to continue to work from home.  Recently, I talked with a client who wasn’t in her office because of the blizzard, then a personal illness, for three weeks in February.  Yet, she was productive because her agency was set up for teleworking.

Why is teleworking not more wide-spread in the federal government?  It is beginning, but government is not leading the way.   If teleworking were more established, this loss of productivity would definitely be mitigated.

What holds government agencies back?    Lack of trust and accountability are big hang-ups, our clients tell me.  Can we address these hurdles? Absolutely.  The virtual work world has to be structured with more intentional support and clear direction because people do not have the safety net of informal communications.  Expectations must be crystal clear, with milestones and check-ups more defined.

As Ken Blanchard says, “As a manager, the important thing is not what happens when you are there, but what happens when you are not there.”

What ideas do you have on building trust and ensuring accountability?  How can government agencies maintain productivity while staff telework?

Can we look at the blizzard of 2010 as an opportunity to open the door to new approaches to improve performance and worker satisfaction even when it is 70 degrees?

  1. #1 by Ava Marie George on April 22, 2010 - 9:51 am

    I have worked in an industry which has made the transition from the workplace to home (medical transcription). We are seeing a trend back to in house due to government regulations requiring strict adaption of HIPAA rules. Now, our industry has safeguards in place to protect patient information, yet the ignorance of how we work persists. We are able to be managed at home virtually, but the government has no confidence in our ability to be HIPAA compliant. It is a quandary.

  2. #2 by Joyce Knudsen, Ph.D. on April 23, 2010 - 10:55 am

    I agree that we need to look at something difficult as an opportunity to open doors. It can be done, but we need willing participants.

    Dr. Joyce

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