In less than two decades, teleworking has gone from being Uncle Sam’s unloved, misunderstood stepchild to the win-win wave of the future. This week a record number of federal workers (roughly 122,000) have pledged to telework, and more than that may be forced to if their agencies close because of a — what many hope is the last — blast of winter.
Thanks to technology, and a push from Congress, more people than ever can and do work from home. Thinking has changed too.
There was a time, which many can remember, when the majority of bosses simply didn’t want people working at home. They didn’t trust subordinates out of their sight and suspected that work-from-home days were dominated by watching kids, watching TV or doing yoga — or even worse.
Agencies and employees fought over who would pay for extra telephone lines to accommodate computers. Defense and some other federal operations had concerns about safety issues. What if an employee was injured at home while working? Would it be the same as an accident in a brick-and-mortar federal building. At one point, a number of agencies said they planned surprise, pop-in inspections of employee home offices.
All that seems to have gone away. Some places now operate with as many employees working from home or remote sites as they have in the office. In one Washington area office, workers who are assigned or strongly encouraged to work from home demanded that the government reimburse them for “travel” when they had to come in for regularly scheduled group meetings where humans actually eyeballed each other.
But there is always the law of unintended consequences.
A growing number of employees — especially during the rough winter of 2013-2014 — who once wanted to work at home are now unhappy that they have to work at home.
“I am one of those people who work at home. And normally I love it. However this has been a rough weather year and federal offices have closed down several times — more than I can ever remember. Essential-emergency workers know they must report, whatever. Nonessential-nonemergency workers get to stay home with pay. I’m fine with that. The problem is for people like me. When I stay home because of foul weather, I am expected to keep on working. There is something wrong with the system.” — B.W.
So how is your winter going? If you telework, are you content to work when your former officemates get the day off. Or is this simply a fair and logical tradeoff for what was once considered a rare perk?
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