Building a Telework Program
Through the use of telework, agencies can achieve significant cost savings while meeting goals, realizing missions, and serving the American people. TMOs and Telework Coordinators are critical to ensuring that telework programs are implemented effectively to yield benefits for employees and agencies.
- Aligned with agency strategy and mission, telework supports the achievement of important objectives for an efficient and effective Federal Government, including cost savings, improved performance, and maximized organizational productivity.
- Developed as a strategic program, telework supports healthy workplaces and is an effective agency recruitment and retention tool with the capacity to improve the competitive position of the Federal Government.
- Leveraged as a management tool, telework mitigates potential disruptions to workplace productivity (e.g., severe weather).
- Implemented to support employees work and family responsibilities, telework allows employees to achieve success in their careers and personal lives.
The Telework Enhancement Act (the Act) included implementation requirements for building a telework program, such as establishing a policy, determining eligibility, requiring written agreements, training managers and employees, and reporting on telework programs. Agencies have initiated increasingly sophisticated ways of meeting these requirements and improving telework programs.
As the agency lead for the telework program, the TMO is intimately involved in establishing and managing all aspects of the program, including policy. A good telework policy provides the foundation for building an effective telework program, and the TMO is responsible for ensuring this foundation is in place. The Act speaks to the importance of policy and its role, requiring each agency to:
- Establish a telework policy under which eligible employees of the agency may be authorized to telework;
- Determine the eligibility for all employees of the agency to participate in telework; and
- Notify all employees of the agency of their eligibility to telework.
Additionally, the Act requires each Executive agency to "consult with the Office of Personnel Management in developing telework policies." OPM provides consultation by means of telework guidance and information on this website, in the Guide to Telework in the Federal Government, and at regularly-scheduled OPM forums with TMOs and coordinators.
According to the 2013 Report to Congress, in 2012, 76 percent of responding agencies reported that they have established a policy pursuant to the requirements of the Act. Internal review processes and unresolved policy questions have meant that a few agencies are still working to adopt telework policies aligned with the Act.
For any agency that wishes to revisit or strengthen its telework policy two main objectives should be considered:
- The policy should be written in such a way that it can be clearly understood and easily used.
- The policy should incorporate content fundamental to the development and support of an effective telework program.
Clarity and Usability
Agency telework policies:
- Use concrete, familiar words and not jargon, unexplained abbreviations, or other difficult terminology (e.g. keep your “end-users” in mind, many of whom may be unfamiliar with telework);
- Avoid ambiguous terms and redundancies;
- Be organized logically (e.g., in preparing the various sections, do not skip around from topic to topic but instead organize the material by category for ease of reference);
- Be designed and written to serve as a useful, practical resource for employees, managers, supervisors of teleworkers, TMOs, Telework Coordinators, Human Resource Specialists, exclusive employee representatives, and any other staff with a need to know about the agency’s telework program; and
- Be written to address the usual, customary situation and not the exception.
Content Fundamental to Program Development and Support
Agency telework policies should include content critical to the success of a telework program. Generally, content should cover issues related to:
- Program implementation (e.g., content that supports effective program development);
- Participant responsibilities (e.g., content that defines the roles and responsibilities of various participants in telework such as employees, managers, supervisors, and TMOs); and
- Program operations (e.g., content that details the day-to-day activities or information necessary to support program success).
Specifically, in terms of program implementation, a telework policy should include:
- A statement of purpose (i.e., one that identifies the intended benefits or outcomes of telework such as emergency preparedness, workforce efficiency, quality of work-life balance, and cost savings);
- Clear definitions of: a) telework, b) employee, c) eligibility, d) official worksite/duty station, and e) alternative worksite/location;
- A statement that employee participation in a telework arrangement is voluntary;
- Emphasis on telework as an arrangement established to facilitate the accomplishment of work;
- Information about how to identify telework-eligible positions, including how to apply the limitations on participation described in the Act (e.g., identifying any legal bars to permitting an employee to telework, considering the nature of the work to be performed, and assessing whether permitting a particular employee to telework would diminish employee performance or agency operations, etc.);
- Aspects of the employment arrangement that could possibly be modified when an employee participates in telework (e.g., teleworkers may be allowed to begin the work day earlier and end earlier than on those days when they commute);
- Whether full-time telework arrangements are allowable and if so, aspects of the employment arrangement that could potentially change if an employee teleworks full-time (e.g., the impact on locality pay, travel, reduction-in-force procedures, etc.).;
- Information about the importance of employee safety while working at alternative worksites; and
- Citations and appendices when reference is made to internal or external sources, such as authorities, documents and related policies (including hyperlinks when possible for accessibility).
A telework policy should also reference:
With regard to participant responsibilities, the telework policy should:
- Emphasize teleworker responsibilities to ensure the arrangement does not have any negative impact on the work of other members of the work group (e.g., co-workers, supervisors);
- Outline what support, materials, and equipment the agency may provide for teleworkers, what the agency will not provide, and what responsibilities may be shared between the agency and the teleworker (e.g., providing laptops, printers, phone, supplies, Internet service, etc.). Agencies may wish to consult with their General Counsel concerning the implications of appropriations law for this subject; and
- Assign clearly-stated responsibilities for record keeping and reporting requirements, not only for the daily operational aspects but also for reporting to OPM in the aggregate each year (e.g., the annual Status of Telework in the Federal Government Report to the Congress).
Specific responsibilities should be defined for:
With respect to program operations, the telework policy should describe policies related to telework arrangements including:
- Procedures for establishing a telework arrangement (e.g., application, approval levels, timeline for approval/denial, training requirements, written agreement, etc.);
- Specific agency requirements for training of employees prior to entering into a written telework agreement and beginning to telework;
- Procedures for changing or modifying telework arrangements (e.g., schedules or locations);
- Requirement that a written telework agreement be reviewed at regular intervals as determined by the agency;
- Procedures for termination or withdrawal from a telework agreement; and
- Expectations and clear procedures for unexpected contingencies that could impact the telework arrangement. For example, clearly define expectations of teleworking employees during situations that involve early dismissal, late arrival, or closure of Federal offices to the public, illness, recall during a telework day to the official site to meet business-related needs, or if a telework day falls on a Federal holiday.
In addition, the operational component of a telework policy should:
- Note that, with respect to employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement, appeals will be governed by the negotiated grievance procedure (unless specifically excluded from that procedure by the collective bargaining agreement, in which case the agency grievance procedure would govern) and that, for non-bargaining unit employees, the agency grievance procedure in force would cover appeals from a denial of a request to telework;
- Establish that the performance of teleworkers will be evaluated consistent with the agency’s regular performance management system (e.g., teleworkers should be treated the same as non-teleworkers with regard to performance management);
- Emphasize that teleworkers will receive the same treatment and opportunities as non-teleworkers (e.g., work assignments, awards and recognition, development opportunities, promotions, etc.);
- Address expectations regarding communication between employees and supervisors, employees and co-workers, employees and customers/clients, and employees and others (e.g., via telephone, email or a combination);
- Identify agency expectations regarding telework training for managers and supervisors of teleworkers
- Include clear and specific requirements for record keeping and reporting, both for individual teleworkers and to keep track of telework in the agency for reporting purposes each year (e.g., annual report to Congress). OPM recommends the agency describe in the policy the system and workflow being used to capture participation of the various types of telework (e.g., bi-weekly work report, time and attendance system; payroll provider, etc.) and provide specific instructions to managers and employees that this information must be carefully and consistently collected either manually or electronically for reporting purposes; and
- Include clear and specific requirements for evaluation of the telework program, both for the individual teleworker and for the agency in general.
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Employee Eligibility and Participation
Agencies have discretion to make their own eligibility determinations for employees subject to operational needs while considering the specific requirements described in the Act. In making these decisions, individual agencies are in the best position to define what it means to “ensure that telework does not diminish employee performance or agency operations.”
There are a variety of circumstances in each individual agency that relate to position classification, organizational structures, and agency mission areas. As a result, it would be impractical and inadvisable to suggest a Governmentwide “standard” or develop generic language that would imply a “one-size-fits-all” approach to making eligibility determinations and in notifying employees of eligibility. Agencies should take special care to specifically describe eligibility and participation criteria in their telework policies.
Eligibility vs. Participation
The Act makes a clear distinction between “eligibility” and “participation.” To be able to participate in telework, an employee must first be identified as eligible.
The Act does not establish new eligibility standards, but it does specify two categories of employees who may not be deemed eligible under any circumstances:
- An employee who "has been officially disciplined for being absent without permission for more than 5 days in any calendar year”
- An employee who “has been officially disciplined for violations of subpart G of the Standards of Ethical Conduct of Employees of the Executive Branch for reviewing, downloading, or exchanging pornography, including child pornography, on a Federal Government computer or while performing official Federal Government duties [Public Law 111-292, 6502(a)(2)(A)(B)]."
In defining the term "day" for the purpose of determining when an employee has been absent without permission (AWOP) for more than 5 days in any calendar year, agencies should adopt a broad interpretation of the law. Specifically, agencies should define the term “day” to be associated with employee’s tour of duty that is established by his/her agency under 5 U.S.C. 6101(a)(3), 6122, and 6127.
Under these references, an agency is required to establish the administrative workweek, including the number of hours an employee works in each day. For example, an employee working 8 hours per day for 5 days a week, a work “day” is defined as 8 hours. Therefore, an employee would need to be absent for all 8 hours on more than 5 distinct days in any calendar year to be deemed ineligible under the Act. For an employee working on a compressed work schedule of 4-10 hour days per week, a work day is defined as 10 hours and the employee would need to be absent for all 10 hours on more than 5 distinct days in any calendar year to be ineligible for telework. An employee may not telework when he/she has been AWOP for more than 5 days, and has been officially disciplined for such AWOP. A "day" counts toward the over 5 day eligibility requirement only when the AWOP occurs on 5 full workdays, and any portion of the sixth workday.
Also, agencies should apply the provisions of the statute regarding eligibility prospectively. That is, ineligibility determinations should apply only to conduct or official discipline (e.g., discipline that is in the Official Personnel File) that occurred after the enactment of the Act
Key eligibility points to consider:
- Employees should understand that participation is not a "right." It should be based upon sound business and performance management principles.
- Effective performance management is a key component of a successful telework program. The Act specifies in Section 6502(b)(3) that an agency's telework policy shall "provide that an employee may not be authorized to telework if the performance of that employee does not comply with the terms of the written agreement between the agency manager and that employee."
- Participation also may be limited because of the duties encompassed by the position. Some positions are not conducive to telework. Section 6502(b)(4) of the Act states that telework participation would "not apply to any employee of the agency whose official duties require on a daily basis (every work day) (A) direct handling of secure materials determined to be inappropriate for telework by the agency head; or (B) on-site activity that cannot be handled remotely or at an alternate worksite . . ."
- When making determinations regarding employee participation, agencies and managers should be creative in considering the use of telework and other workplace flexibilities. For example, most if not all jobs include some duties that are considered to be “portable” in that they generally can be performed at any location.
- When the nature of an employee’s work prohibits telework, sound work-life principles and best practices would suggest that managers work with affected employees to avail them of opportunities to use workplace flexibilities appropriate to their situation (e.g., alternative work schedules such as flexible work schedules or compressed work schedules).
According to the 2013 Report to Congress, all reporting Executive branch agencies have notified agency employees of their eligibility to participate in telework or engaged in an ongoing process to do so. Agencies use a variety of methods to notify employees of eligibility to telework, including agency-wide emails, personal communications (e.g., email, conversation with supervisor), agency intranet announcements, telework policies themselves, training efforts, electronic personnel files, newsletters, meetings/briefings, new employee orientation, and TMO meetings with individual offices.
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Agencies must ensure that "an interactive telework training program is provided to employees eligible to participate in the telework program of the agency and all managers of teleworkers...," according to the law. The Act requires that "an employee has successfully completed the interactive telework training program before that employee enters into a written agreement to telework..."
While agencies may provide their own telework training program for employees, OPM has offered and will continue to provide basic telework training modules (Telework 101) for employees and managers. As needed, OPM reviews these modules to update the information and to enhance the format and learning experience for participants. Specialized training for managers is also available through OPM’s Eastern and Western Management Development Centers.
According to the 2013 Report to Congress, the most frequently listed source of training for both employees and managers in 2012 was the web-based telework training available through OPM. About a quarter of reporting agencies developed their own customized in-person training.
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The Act requires every telework participant to have a written agreement (regardless of whether telework is regular and recurring, or situational). The written agreement is "entered into between an agency manager and an employee authorized to telework...outlines the specific work arrangement that is agreed to; and is mandatory in order for any employee to participate in telework." It is important to remember that the Act requires that an employee successfully complete telework training before being allowed to enter into a written agreement and telework.
An employee may request a telework arrangement either orally or in writing (e.g., if an employee approaches his/her supervisor to participate in situational telework in order to complete a special project at home); however, this presumes that every employee has already successfully completed telework training and has a written telework agreement in place. It is especially important to take this into account for any employee that anticipates opting for "unscheduled telework" in accordance with dismissal and closure procedures.
Many agency policies and collective bargaining agreements currently describe specific requirements for the telework agreement, or make agreement templates available to employees and managers.
According to the 2013 Report to Congress, in 2012, the 81 agencies that maintained records of telework agreements reported a total of 267,277 Federal employees with agreements in place, an 84 percent increase from 2011 when 82 agencies reported 144,851 employees with agreements. As before, most agencies in 2012 reported that they renew telework agreements periodically according to a fixed schedule (e.g., at the same time as the performance appraisal), with a change in supervisor, and/or whenever an employee's position changes.
Tips for Developing Telework Agreements
- Term of the agreement: Consider a one-year renewable agreement, or even a six-month agreement in telework situations that may need to be revised more frequently.
- Type of telework specified by the agreement: Describe if the agreement is for regular, recurring telework, or situational/ad-hoc/episodic telework.
- Schedule: Specify days of the week and the hours to be worked during telework days.
- Requirements: Outline any additional requirements (e.g., technology) beyond the prerequisites to telework outlined in the Act (e.g., training, written agreement).
- Expectations: Clarify any assumptions regarding work location (e.g., if expected to work only from home) and frequency and modes of communication (e.g., email vs. telephone, core hours for contact, speed for returning calls).
- Equipment and other expenses: Determine and specify equipment and/or expenses that will be covered by the agency, employee, or shared.
- Expectations for emergency telework: Be clear on whether or not an employee is expected to work in the case of a continuity event such as a national or local emergency; during an emergency event involving inclement weather; or another situation that may result in a disruption to normal office operations. With regard to Continuity of Operations, note that Emergency Relocation Group (ERG) members must be prepared to telework at any time.
- Information security: Provide a summary for data security procedures in the agreement.
- Safety: Provide a self-certification safety checklist to telework employees as a guide when preparing the alternative work location for telework.
- Termination/modification: Ensure that employees know the agreement can be terminated or modified, and outline the conditions for termination/modification.
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Each year, OPM prepares and submits a report to the Congress that addresses the telework programs of each agency. This annual collaboration between OPM and agency TMOs and Telework Coordinators often begins with a Call for Telework Data from OPM to the agencies and culminates in the Status of Telework in the Federal Government Report to Congress.
The report addresses requirements in the Act. It includes various types of information important to understanding progress in agency telework programs, information that not only assesses the state of Federal telework, but also provides important sources of inter-agency learning and benchmarking possibilities. Content includes:
- The degree of participation by employees of each agency in telework during the period covered by the report (for some agencies, this will also include the degree of participation by bureau, division, or other major administrative unit);
- The method for gathering telework data in each agency;
- The reasons for positive or negative variations in telework participation if the total number of employees teleworking is 10% higher or lower than the previous year in any agency;
- The agency goal for increasing telework participation to the extent practicable or necessary;
- An explanation of whether or not an agency met its goals for the last reporting period and, if not, what actions are being taken to identify and eliminate barriers; and
- An assessment of the progress each agency has made in meeting agency participation rate goals and other agency goals related to telework, such as the impact of telework on emergency readiness, energy use, recruitment and retention, performance, productivity, and employee attitudes and opinions regarding telework best practices in agency telework programs.
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