THE BLOG

Is 2011 the Year of Telework?

01/10/2011 12:14 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Happy New Year and welcome to 2011. I believe this is going to be a banner year for a number of reasons. First, it kicks off the second decade of the new century. No, 2010 was part of the first decade because there is no Year Zero (remember the false millennium in 2000). So if the first decade was talking about change and a new way of looking at things, the second decade can be about implementing these new ideas. One of these ideas is certainly telework. For the last few years there has been a small group of us running around trying to get people to talk about how work is changing and the old concepts of management need to adapt to the new realities, but it was not always an easy sell.

I think we have turned a corner in the past year and will need to start chasing the big telework rock down the hill instead of pushing it up. My shoulder is very happy about the change in direction of this big ole telework rock, but we need to make sure we don't let the boulder get out of control as the momentum picks up.

So, what has changed? On the corporate side, we have companies who are realizing that aggressive telework strategies can save hard money in real estate and boost productivity as well as employee recruitment and retention numbers. As I have noted, the big advantage corporate America has over government is the clarity of the bottom line. Profit is easy to measure and requires no discussion on its merit as a goal (companies may have secondary and tertiary goals, but unless profit is top dog, they generally don't last very long).

Government has to balance effectiveness, efficiency, and the needs and desires of the public in its goal setting. Regardless of what you hear from politicians and pundits, the "public" does not want government to make decisions like a corporation.

In addition to realizing they can save money with telework, many companies now see it as a business opportunity. Across the IT and human capital support industry, telework is the new buzzword. Why? Because, that great sleeping giant, Uncle Sam, has awoken and he is hungry. The enactment of the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 was the outcome, not the driver, of this policy shift. Congress put into law what the Administration has already begun to implement. That is not to say that the new law won't have a huge impact, because it puts muscle behind the change in thinking.

Last month, OPM Director John Berry issued a new policy for inclement weather "closings" for Federal offices. Unscheduled telework is now an option for Federal workers during severe weather emergencies. OPM is also issuing new guidance on what agencies need to do in the short term (now) and longer term (next six months) to comply with the new telework law. The law requires a number of policy changes and actions by what I am calling Telework D-Day, June 7, 2011 (180 days from it becoming law). Some agencies, such as GSA, are wasting no time and have already appointed their new Telework Managing Officers (TMO). Others have more to do because they don't have a solid telework policy in place. In either case, there is much work to be done, and some of it will happen in places not traditionally thought of as "the office." I see much more collaboration on our part - both in government and industry. You can join us on April 28, 2011, at the Spring Telework Town Hall and be part of that collaboration as well.

I, for one, am very excited to see this new level of maturity of telework, but let's not forget that as the big boulder crests the hill and starts to pick up speed, the watchword should be control. Let's make sure we are driving the policy, not having it drive us. As always, I look forward to your comments, thoughts, and concerns.

If you want to continue the dialogue on telework, write to me at jsawislak@teleworkexchange.com or visit my blog at TeleworkExchange.com.