Welcome back to the inside of my head. If this is your first visit, get ready for a bumpy ride because we are going to do a little traveling this week. I just got back from two weeks on the road and it was a very busy trip. With my great Telework Exchange colleagues Cindy and Brittany, I made a guest appearance at GSA Expo in San Diego. Before you get jealous, we were working pretty hard and we did not win the good hotel lottery. But I promised the ladies I wouldn't talk about the ghosts, so no more on that...
What we did win was the focus group lottery. In partnership with the good folks in the GSA Telework Program Management Office (PMO), we held a series of discussions with Federal employees, managers, and executive leadership. For those of you not familiar with GSA Expo, it's a big annual trade show and training conference (alternating locations on the East Coast, West Coast, and Mid/Southwest every year). This year, they had more than 7,000 attendees, 660 vendors, and provided 200+ training classes on subjects ranging from acquisition policy to zero environmental footprint (get it, A-to-Z?)
Our goal was to ground truth some of what we have been hearing from the usual folks we talk to about these issues. To get "outside the beltway," as we like to say inside the beltway. I don't think I have ever heard anyone from "outside" refer to themselves that way. They usually just say "Washington" with a little sneer and angst. We all wanted to make these more conversations than formal focus groups. In fact, the leadership event was billed a fireside chat with GSA Administrator Martha Johnson. It was summer in San Diego, so we didn't need the roaring fire, but we did sit in a circle and engage leaders from across the government in the chat part.
Each of the sessions generated a lot of discussions about my favorite topic: the nature of work. Many of the same issues surfaced in all three groups. They included collaboration, security, culture change, and management resistance. I did want to touch on a few of the key points I found very interesting.
The first was an unintended benefit of National Telework Week. One of the participants said that her whole team was strongly encouraged to try out telework during the week and required to use some of the collaboration tools that the agency had rolled out for its teleworkers. She said many of them decided that while telework didn't make sense in their particular situation, the collaboration tools were great and they could use them just as well when working in the office.
The second issue I thought was very interesting was related to trust. If you have been reading this blog, you know my mantra has been that the key to an effective relationship between an employee and a manager is trust. Without trust, you will never get good work from your best people and your best people will leave and go work for someone they do trust. There are about a billion business books on this, so don't take my word for it. So how do you build trust? One way is to let people out of your sight and stop stifling them. Not everyone will earn your trust, but believe me, your best people will. We had one participant tell a story about how his agency was out of space at their office. There was an office across town with extra space. One of his team lived down the street from that office, but the big boss wanted everyone in the same office, even if they had lease more space in that one location. Here's the kicker: the big boss worked 200 miles away in another city. This was purely about control and lack of trust, not supervision or good management.
The week after Expo I was still on the road and this time my destination was the Mile High City of Denver. You may have heard of our telework road show called "Telework-in-a-Box." It's basically a half-day traveling version of the Town Hall Meeting. The first one was in Denver, followed by Atlanta and Philadelphia in June. If you can't make it to DC for the Town Hall, you may have a Town Hall "lite" coming to a region near you. The Denver session had two sessions. The first focused on best practices on setting up a robust telework program. Experts from FDIC, DOE, and the Colorado Department of Labor discussed lessons learned from the development and operation of their programs.
The second session, moderated by yours truly, focused on how technology can support and drive management goals. Tim Horne from GSA talked about how his agency is bringing people from the real estate side together with the acquisition side to give one face to the customer service for agencies in not just telework, but broader mobile work solutions. Owen Unangst from the USDA CIO's office talked about the future of government computing, which as he put it, involves a lot of non-government computers and smart phones. Finally, Peter Ryce from Adobe, the event sponsor, gave a demo of Adobe Connect, showing how this collaboration tool allowed him to work from anywhere, with anyone, on a number of platforms. Kudos to Peter for working a laptop, smart phone, LCD projector, and talking from the podium all at once. I had to have Shannon advance my slides.
The big lesson I learned from the whole trip was that people across the government are excited to use whatever tools are available to be more productive and sustainable. There is great technology out there to support these mobile workers. And we need to address the culture and management issues if we really want the better government we all talk about.