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GCN : October 2012
GCN OCTOBER 2012 • GCN.COM 19 CYBEREYE BY WILLIAM JACKSON TECH LESSONS FROM TRANSPORTATION'S TELEWORK STRESS TEST T T Depart- ment conducted a stress test last spring of its capacity to use telework as part of its disaster preparedness plans, sending eligible headquarters employees home to work during a mock snowstorm. "It worked," said Deputy Secre- tary John D. Porcari during a recent Telework Exchange Town Hall Meeting in Wash- ington. But some technical and managerial challenges re- main, and DOT learned some lessons about planning, edu- cation and communication. Telework -- usually working from home but also other non-traditional work sites such as satellite o ces or in the field -- is being touted in government as a way to improve productivity, increase employee satisfaction, save money, ease tra c conges- tion and reduce pollution. An increasingly networked environment with a growing availability of IP devices is making this more practical. At DOT, a little more than half of the employees are eligible to telework, about 28,000 out of 55,000, and about 15,000 have signed agreements to allow this. Most work outside the o ce one or two days for each two- week period, Porcari said, and on any given day about 3,000 across the department are working outside the o ce. What happens if working outside the o ce is a neces- sity and not an option? On one day DOT "shut down" its Washington headquarters and encouraged all eligible employees to work from home instead. About 68 percent of eligible workers did, a record number, and it did stress the system. "We did experience some technical issues," Porcari said. Here are some of the lessons learned. "Build more capacity than you think you ll use," he said. The department thought it had enough licenses for its se- cure remote desktops used to access department resources, but found it needed to get more on the fly to accom- modate the surge in use. The network also must be able to handle an increase in tra c for routine work usually being done inside the perimeter. There also was a spike in help desk calls, which raises two points. First, you have to have the desk sta ed to handle the calls; and second, workers need to be familiar with the tools, processes and policies of working remotely. Those who work from outside regularly probably won t have a problem --- as long as the networks hold up --- but those without telework experience are likely to need a helping hand. Supervisors and front-line employees need to estab- lish clear expectations for telework, even if the work- ers don t use the option very often, so that when the crunch comes both sides will feel comfortable with it. Unfortunately, management resistance remains one of roadblocks to telework, Por- cari said. "This is a conceptual change." One problem that has not appeared so far in telework- ing is security. Like every other agency, "we ve had some pretty significant cyber events," Porcari said, but they have not increased with the adoption of telework, and none appears to be related to outside workers. DOT plans to expand its stress test to facilities across the nation sometime this fall.• WHO'S TELEWORKING? GOVERNMENT IS NOT SO SURE Although nearly one third of federal employees are eligible to telework, fewer than 7 percent have telework agreements that allow them to regularly work outside of the office, and most of them telework two days a week or less, according to the Office of Personnel Management. "Overall, the use of telework is expanding and improving in the federal government," OPM said in a recent report to Congress on teleworking in 2011. Just how much it is expanding and how fast it is improving is difficult to say, how- ever, as the agency struggles to measure participation and benefits. Changes in the way data was collected for 2011 make comparison of figures with earlier reports difficult, and OPM warns that "in the ab- sence of a standardized governmentwide data-collection system or trained data- collection staff in all agencies, the final combined telework participation levels are unlikely to be reliable. OPM conducted a pilot program this year to automate the gathering of telework data from agencies. The goal is more accurate and consistent data, but until it has been fully in place for several years, measuring progress from year to year will be difficult. The most frequently cited barriers to telework are management resistance and technology, according to OPM's report. Many managers apparently remain leery of allowing remote access to agency data and resources.