A new MSPB publication says that its own research and that of others has documented downsides to both employees and an organization of employees being on extensive telework but that there are ways to address those disadvantages.
The article comes as agencies are writing long-range plans for their mix of in-person and telework as ordered by a joint OMB-OPM-GSA memo.
Key issues and potential responses mentioned in the MSPB article include (in its words):
• “Sustaining innovation and problem-solving. When people work in different places, at different times, synchronous communication may become difficult. But such communication is essential when trying to solve a complex technical or organizational issue or act on a new opportunity. New tools, such as online whiteboards, can help. So too can thoughtful use of “old-fashioned” tools such as mentoring and in-person meetings.
• “Information sharing and knowledge transfer. It can be hard for a teleworker to ask a coworker for assistance or an opinion. That’s not only a matter of physical distance; it may also be a matter of a teleworker not knowing what their coworkers have to contribute. Common solutions include more documentation, such as web portals or wikis that provide knowledge and resources, and an explicit expectation that employees and managers will share and codify their knowledge. If your agency knowledge management system has fallen into disuse, it may be time to dust it off.
• “Socialization. Employees are expected to understand and advance an organization’s missions and interests, not just perform a specified task or deliver a specified product. That means having a connection with coworkers and the organization that is more than purely transactional. Historically, mission knowledge and coworker relationships were developed by in-person interaction. We can supplement increasingly rare hallway discussions with post-virtual meeting chats, phone calls, tag-team email exchanges, and other tactics that build and maintain closeness at a distance.
• “Career development and advancement. Traditionally, the road to the top has led to a corner office in a brick-and-mortar headquarters with designated parking after establishing your reputation through in-person interaction. Even in a merit system, mentors often emphasize networking and being “visible” to leaders and the people one aspires to lead. In a telework world, organizations need to examine career paths and promotion processes from both an employee perspective (how might teleworking affect opportunities?) and a human capital perspective (how do working conditions affect the quality of the leadership talent pool?). Technology and policy changes may be needed—as well as a cultural change.”
It concludes: “The good news is that telework may have greater promise and less peril than many believed, and the experiment of max-telework may lead to lasting improvements for employers and employees. But that potential cannot be realized through technology alone. Thinking, feeling people are the key to creating a “new normal” that balances technological connectivity and human connection.”