Let's Talk Telework
By Kathy Kadilak
Q: There are lots of rumors around the office about President Obama’s support of work/life programs and, specifically, telework. My co-worker and I have a little bet going and lunch is at stake. I say that President Obama is serious about this and that Federal telework will be expanded during his administration; my colleague says it’s all hype and not much will change. In your opinion, who wins?
A: Your buddy had better get ready to buy you lunch! President Obama has clearly stated his intentions to expand telework for Federal employees. In a letter written to John Gage, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, Obama said he would "support efforts to bring paid family leave, flexible work schedules, and increased teleworking to the Federal government." In addition, President Obama has pledged to work with Congress in increasing affordable broadband access. Certainly, greater access to high-speed connectivity would have a positive effect on telework capabilities in the more rural parts of the nation, allowing more employees to telework effectively.
It is difficult to predict the pace of progress in the expansion of Federal telework, but I believe we can say with certainty that this administration will strongly support the effort.
Visit the Telework Exchange Web site, www.teleworkexchange.com
, and enter "President Obama and telework" into the search engine to view more information.
Q: As we enter tax season, I was wondering if you have advice on tax deductions for the home office. I regularly telework two days per week. Shouldn’t I be able to deduct a portion of the costs for operating a home office?
A: I am not a tax specialist and would be hesitant to provide specific guidance beyond recommending that you talk with a tax professional about your home office use and the potential tax benefits. I would recommend reviewing a past article from The Teleworker, "2007 Tax Tips: Resolve to Know Your Telework Tax Advantages." Visit the Telework Exchange Web site, www.teleworkexchange.com
, and enter "tax deductions" into the search engine. I suspect, however, that you would have to telework more frequently than you do now to qualify for a tax deduction for home office expenses.
Q: I’m a new teleworker and am finding it difficult to get my work day started and avoid distractions. I need some advice soon or I’ll have to stop my telework arrangement. Is it hopeless?
A: Hopeless? No. Challenging? Yes. It isn’t at all unusual for a new teleworker to have problems adjusting to work-at-home arrangements, so I encourage you and other readers in this situation to give it time. The best advice I have is to follow the same routine when teleworking that you do when working in the primary office.
During the time that I teleworked as a Federal employee – more than 12 years – I started my work day at the same time that I did when traveling downtown. Dressed in business casual clothing and armed with my usual cup of coffee, I began my work day. I checked my e-mail first to determine if there was any need to adjust my work priorities based on new requests from my manager or others – again, as I did when sitting in the primary office. I would often contact my manager by phone or e-mail to discuss plans for the day. I took my lunch break around the same time each work day.
I could go on, but I suspect you get the point. Structure and "sameness" are key factors in managing your telework day effectively. Remember, you are "at work" and are simply in a different location. So think about your routine when you are in your primary office and mimic that routine when you are working from home. I think you’ll find that your adjustment will be successful and you’ll be quite productive. Good luck!
Q: My organization (I’m a Fed) just established a telework directive. As part of the process for approving telework from home, the supervisor is required to inspect the home office for compliance with government safety standards. This seems extreme to me. Is it normal to require home office inspections as a pre-condition to telework?
A: No, it is not a typical government policy or practice. According to information found in the Federal government’s telework Web site (www.telework.gov
), "the agency is not required to visit the teleworker’s home to inspect it for safety and ergonomics."
In fact, as a former Department of Justice telework official, I would have discouraged a requirement for supervisors to inspect home offices. Why? Primarily, because your supervisor is unlikely to be a safety specialist with sufficient knowledge of Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) rules and regulations to make an informed decision about your home office setup.
A formal approval by your supervisor, as the government’s representative, means that the government has agreed that your home office meets all applicable regulations. In my view, this requirement creates greater liability for your agency and could result in supervisors being more reluctant to approve telework requests. After all, how many supervisors would care to be put in this position, in addition to dealing with the logistics involved in carrying out home office inspections?
There is a better alternative. Many agencies use a "Self-Certification" Safety Checklist, which requires the employee to review their home office against listed OSHA standards and certify that it is compliant. This meets the goal of encouraging a focus on safety without creating a liability for managers. Agencies still reserve the right to inspect home offices, with advance notice, if a concern exists about safety or security issues.
In the January issue of The Teleworker, we referred to the OPM pay and compensation regulation that requires teleworkers to report to their primary office once per week in order to consider the primary office their official duty station for pay purposes. On December 8, 2008, OPM amended the regulation to require teleworkers to report to the primary office twice per pay period
If you have questions about telework that you’d like to have answered in this column, please feel free to contact Kathy Kadilak, president of Strategic WorkLife Solutions, LLC at: firstname.lastname@example.org