Adventures in telework at GSA and USAID

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A month-long stretch where an entire office must work elsewhere is one strategy to encourage a more mobile workforce, said Steve Kempf, commissioner of the General Services Administration's Federal Acquisition Service.

Kempf spoke March 15 on a panel at a Washington, D.C., event about the federal government's plans for a mobile workforce co-hosted by federal information technology groups AFFIRM and GITEC.

He said that GSA's Office of Strategy Management is currently undergoing a 30-day "telework wave" where its employees aren't supposed to be in their offices, but instead at home or in other GSA buildings. "They're having to learn different patterns of behavior, different patterns of communication," Kempf said.

He noted that "anybody can do this for a week and not change anything, but when you have to work differently for an entire month, you're going to have to learn some different behaviors and different cultures and different ways of operating."

Kempf also emphasized the role of leadership. When FAS was preparing new office space, Kempf told the designers that he did not need his own office anymore. Later, one of his direct reports asked for her own office, but withdrew her request when she found out she was the only one to do so.

Also at the March 15 event was Sean Carroll, chief operating officer at the U.S. Agency for International Development, who said that his aggressive approach to mobility has included mandatory telework training.

In his experience, managers have been more reluctant than supervised employees to embrace telework, he said. To managers who worry about telework's effect on productivity, he has stressed that telework in fact makes some employees more productive and should be seen as a productivity tool, not a perk.

He also advised that management be sensitive to generational differences and realize that older employees may resist changes while, for younger employees, change often can't come fast enough. For example, when USAID decided to transfer its email to Gmail, it let workers who were comfortable transition right away while gradually bringing other employees along.

But while he said he's sensitive to employees' diverse preferences and styles, he does not let them opt out of new technology altogether. When older employees say that new technology is not for them, or that they think of themselves as Luddites, he replies that "today, that's like saying you're illiterate."

Carroll and Kempf, among others on the panels, agreed that costs were driving the government toward mobility, especially considering how expensive real estate can be. Space can go largely unused when agencies, like USAID, have many employees in the field. Carroll noted, "I've never walked through an office at USAID at any time of the day, any day of the week, and seen it even half full--never."

For more:
- go to the AFFIRM event webpage

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