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Telework Employees

Telework Basics

The Federal Government is a leader in the use of innovative workplace arrangements like telework.  In June 2014, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum entitled, Enhancing Workplace Flexibilities and Work-Life Programs, as a way to help attract, empower and retain a talented and productive workforce in the 21st century.  Although telework is only one of the workplace flexibilities highlighted in the memorandum, the focus of these efforts provide additional momentum for building upon the requirements of passage of the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 (the Act).

Telework can give employees more control over their schedules and flexibility in meeting personal and professional responsibilities.  It can offer freedom from office distractions, reduce work-life stress, and provide an alternative workplace arrangement in case of emergencies.

If you are interested in teleworking, or already telework but want to ensure you become a more effective teleworker, here are the key steps to success.

Step 1: Know your Telework Managing Officer and Telework Coordinator

All agencies must designate a Telework Managing Officer (TMO), who is the agency's primary contact for policy and program questions. TMOs will often work with a Telework Coordinator on the day-to-day operational aspects of telework. Employees should maintain frequent contact with their Telework Coordinator to be sure they follow policy and procedures, and for support and assistance should it be needed. You can find your Telework Coordinator, by searching OPM's Work-Life Contact Database.

Step 2: Know your policy and procedures

As detailed in the Act, all agencies must have a telework policy. Employees should familiarize themselves with their agency's policy and any relevant procedures and collective bargaining agreements to ensure they are in compliance with their requirements.

Step 3: Successfully complete telework training

The Act requires employees to successfully complete telework training before they can telework. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management offers online telework training.  In addition, many agencies offer their own training as part of their telework policy and procedures.  Also, information technology security training is mandatory at the agency level, and teleworkers must complete this training and understand their responsibilities in safeguarding work-related information.  For more information about agency-based telework training and/or information technology training, please consult your agency Telework Coordinator or TMO.  You can find your Telework Coordinator by searching OPM's Work-Life Contact Database.

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Step 4: Conduct a self-assessment

A good telework arrangement starts with a good self-assessment. Employees should consider the following factors in making an honest determination about their telework capabilities:

  • Sufficient portable work for the amount of telework proposed
  • Comfort with the technologies, if any, that will be needed to telework
  • Good communication with your manager, co-workers, customers that will enable a relatively seamless transition from onsite to offsite
  • Telework office space that is conducive to getting the work done
  • Dependent care (i.e., child care, elder care, or care of any other dependent adults) arrangements in place
  • Ability to be flexible about the telework arrangement to respond to the needs of the manager, the workgroup, and the work

Additionally, to be a successful teleworker you need to have work habits that support independent task performance.  These habits include:

  • Ability to work with minimal direct supervision
  • Organized work practices
  • Good planning skills
  • Ability to meet schedules and deadlines
  • Effective time management skills
  • Effective communication skills

For more information, visit the Self-Assessment & Safety Checklist pages.

Step 5: Enter into a signed, written telework agreement

The Act mandates that each teleworker and his/her manager must enter into a written agreement for every type of telework, whether the employee teleworks regularly or not. The parameters of this agreement are most often laid out by the agency policy and/or collective bargaining agreement but should include the following key elements:

  • Location of the telework office (e.g., home or another alternative workplace)
  • Equipment inventory (e.g., what the employee is supplying, what the agency is providing, and who is responsible to maintain it)
  • A general overview of the type of work that will be performed while teleworking
  • The telework schedule
  • Telework contact information (e.g., what phone number to use on the telework day)
  • A safety checklist, self-certifying that the home office meets certain standards
  • Expectations for emergency telework (e.g. whether the employee is expected to work during agency closures or other Continuity of Operations (COOP) related emergencies or situations that may result in a disruption to normal office operations). With regard to COOP, note that Emergency Relocation Group (ERG) members must be prepared to telework at any time.  

The manager and teleworker should work together to periodically evaluate the arrangement, make changes to the agreement as necessary, and re-sign the document.  

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Step 6: Safeguard information and data

Employees must take responsibility for the security of the data and other information they handle while teleworking.  Additionally, employees are required to comply with their agency’s information security policies, participate in information security training, follow security protocols for remote connectivity, and maintain security of any relevant materials, including files, correspondence, and equipment.  Depending on the sensitivity of the information being handled, the home office may need to include security measures such as locked file cabinets, similar to what may be used at the official worksite.   For more information, please consult your agency telework policy and/or Telework Coordinator.  You can find your Telework Coordinator by searching OPM's Work-Life Contact Database.

Additionally the National Archives & Records Administration provides guidance to agencies and their employees that applies to Federal records in a telework environment on NARA's FAQs about Telework.

For more information, review the Security & IT Guidance.

Step 7: Plan the work

Employees who are teleworking should assess the portability of their work and the level of technology available at the remote site as they prepare to telework. In many cases, employees will need to plan for their telework days in order to be as effective as possible.  While planning, employees should consider the following questions:

  • What files or other documents will I need to take with me when I leave my regular workplace the day before teleworking?
  • What equipment will I need to take?
  • Who needs to be notified that I will be teleworking?
  • What other steps should I take before I leave my office (e.g., forwarding the phone)?
  • In the case of emergency telework, what should I have available at all times at my home office that would enable me to be functional without coming onsite to retrieve materials? 

Step 8: Manage expectations and communication

Although managers are ultimately responsible for the healthy functioning of the workgroup, teleworkers must help manage the group's expectations and their own communication in order to avoid any negative impact on the morale or productivity of non-teleworkers.   Issues that should be addressed include:

  • Backup: Even with very portable work, there are inevitably instances where physical presence is required and a co-worker needs to step in.  Co-worker backup should be planned.  It should also not be burdensome, and it should be reciprocal.  Resulting cross-training has broad organizational benefits.
  • On-the-spot assistance: Teleworkers may occasionally need someone who is physically in the main office to assist them, for instance, to fax or scan a document to them, or to look up information.  Again, these arrangements should not be unexpected or burdensome, and they should be reciprocal; a "buddy system" between teleworkers may be the least disruptive solution.
  • Communication: The manager and co-workers need to be kept apprised of the teleworker's schedule, how to reach him/her, how to handle telephone calls or other communications that need to go to the teleworker, and how customers are to be handled.

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