Back to the office: Is your telework schedule in danger?

The Agriculture Department has made a dramatic cutback in the amount of time its workers are allowed to work from home. The Education Department is said to be considering the same thing.

Cabinet officers and agency heads anxious to thin the herd — or who just do not like bureaucrats or what they think they do, or do not do — might find rescinding telework programs as a valuable tool.

So what is going on, and what is going to happen to the popular perk? Many studies, and lone managers, say it makes employees happier, more productive and helps in recruiting and retention.

USDA once had one of the oldest, strongest, and most extensive telework programs in government. Many employees were allowed to telework  four days per week. Under the new USDA plan many will likely be limited to one telework day per pay period, or four days per month.

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Federal News Radio cited a 2017 Office of Personnel Management report which said that at least 32,000 USDA employees teleworked at least one day per week in fiscal 2016. WUSA TV in Washington, D.C., predicted that the district’s already horrible rush hours would get even worse.

The report counted 9,418 workers at USDA headquarters and offices in the Maryland and Virginia areas. AAA said that the addition of 5,000 former teleworkers into the daily traffic mix could add as much as 20 minutes to the commute time of many workers who already spend an hour or more each way on the road.

For some members of the Trump team the issue is whether feds are overpaid, underworked and coddled too much compared to their private sector counterparts. Others may believe that if-they-cannot-see-you-working maybe you are not working.

So what are feds saying about it? We asked, you responded:

Anthony C.

“I’ve been retired since the end of 2011. However, there were times that I worked from home one or two days a week, unless there were circumstances that required me to be in the office, such as a meeting that my boss wanted me to attend.

“I found I accomplished a great deal more from home than I could in the office. This was especially true when I had something that required me to focus and do so without interruption. Some examples are writing a response to a lengthy inspector general or Government Accountability Office report, or reading through a contract proposal.

“Actually, the prospect of working from home is what initially lead me to buy a computer for my home. Prior to that time, around 2000, I thought why would I want to go home and sit in front of a computer, when I do that most of the day in the office?

“I did however find it amusing that at various points my agency would flip flop and not trust employees to work from home (by) employing line-of-sight management. Also, there were times when managers were not allowed to work from home, but the staff were allowed. This led to a great deal of resentment among the first line managers.

“It was amazing to me how much more liberal first line managers were in allowing staff to work from [home] once they, likewise, enjoyed that privilege. I recall talking to a manager once who had worked from home the prior day for the first time who said it was incredible how much more he was able to accomplish.

“I don’t think I would have wanted to work from home full time, because I think there is a need to feel connected to something, but, I thought three days working from home per week would have been ideal. It was so nice not to have to commute to work.

I typically would include the amount of time of my commute too — a half hour each way — when working from home. Had I been allowed to work from home three days a week, I might still be working, and not retired.”

E.P.

” I have never teleworked, but I do know most employees make themselves open and available to their international and external customers. Some individuals have set up their whole lives around teleworking and this heavy handed policy change at USDA is making them heavily consider other options outside the government. I immediately can think of three.”

M.C.

“Funny, I was on a conference call yesterday and, as telecommuters like me were joining, someone left their TV on and you could tell it was a game show or talk show with loud cheering. The boss joked that teleworking was not about watching TV, and everyone nervously laughed. Other telecommuters, like me, were pissed because this one person was playing right into the view of teleworkers as slackers.

“I think teleworkers are generally more productive. For starters, I remind people that when I telecommute I gain about two working hours a day otherwise spent stewing on the George Washington Parkway.

“However, I don’t think working from home all five days is good unless you live states away and that was part of your hiring agreement. Ideally,  two to three days a week at home is probably the ideal max.

“It is too easy to lose the flow of the office and gauge what is working, what is not, and how you are fitting in with the company’s goals and making sure everyone understands how valuable you are.

“It also helps to have a boss who has, or does, telecommute themselves. That type of boss better understands that, even if you shirk off for the equivalent of a long lunch watching Steve Harvey, between eliminating the commute — and time wasted on chit chat at the office — you can usually get more done at home than at the office.”

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Michael O’Connell

The United States is the 18th happiest country in the world.

Source: Market Watch