Why bother with a telework pilot project when your agency has an established telework policy? Wouldn't it be easier to simply move forward with a full-fledged telework program that allows a large number of employees to participate in telework right away?
Although you may think that the answer to these questions is an obvious "yes," in fact that could not be further from the truth. Initiating a carefully constructed and planned telework pilot study is a crucial step in establishing a long-term, successful telework initiative. Why? Because, even with our best efforts, a well-written and vetted telework policy cannot ensure a smooth transition to telework execution.
Successful telework arrangements necessitate having the right equipment, furnishings, and supplies in place in the alternate worksite, as well as a reliable, easily accessible connection to the remote access system. We need to ensure that teleworkers can get expert helpdesk assistance when access is interrupted or fails. Further, teleworkers must have the documents and materials needed to get their work done.
Finally – and perhaps most importantly – teleworkers need to understand and apply the principles of good communication and social networking. Teamwork and camaraderie should not suffer because employees are teleworking. Does the telework policy and equipment issued support effective communications? What about telework training – is it helping staff transition smoothly to telework, or are adjustments needed?
A good telework pilot study enables the organization to test all of the elements that must come into play in order to implement telework in a way that supports organizational goals and the needs of all staff – regardless of their physical location.
So, how does an organization plan and conduct a worthwhile telework pilot?
- Ensure that material and staffing resources are in place to conduct a thorough test of the telework policies and procedures (this may require obtaining the assistance of outside expertise to oversee and manage the project)
- Review the current telework policy (or develop a draft policy if none exists) to ensure that it provides a good foundation for ongoing telework as well as telework in emergency or Continuity of Operations (COOP) situations
- Plan a phased-in approach that limits the number of employees teleworking during each successive stage of the telework pilot to facilitate project monitoring and problem resolution
- Ensure that the necessary equipment is available and properly programmed for remote access
- Partner with the IT department to ensure that existing remote access methods can handle the number of users anticipated during each phase of the pilot and includes the right collaboration tools to provide technological solutions for strengthening remote communications
- Develop a telework training program for participants to ensure that they are well-informed and understand the telework policies and procedures, as well as understand the recommended communication techniques
- Develop a companion telework training program for managers that encompasses the training provided to participants and emphasizes strategies for effectively managing remote workers
- Train participants and their managers prior to telework implementation
- Determine what performance measures are important to the organization and integrate those metrics into pre- and post-implementation surveys of participants and their managers
- Develop and issue pre-implementation surveys of participants and their managers to establish baseline data at the outset of each pilot phase
- Conduct focus group sessions (within a few weeks of the outset of each pilot phase) to provide participants and their managers an opportunity to comment on the strengths and weaknesses of the telework policy and processes in place
- Conduct a post-implementation survey of pilot participants and their managers to compare results with the baseline data gathered at the onset of the pilot phases
- Issue a summary report evaluating the telework pilot and recommending changes needed before implementation of a long-term, more expansive telework program
Clearly, there are many factors to consider and carefully assess when building an enterprise telework program. These factors can only be adequately addressed through a telework pilot study. As Federal agencies embrace telework as an effective way to improve employee morale and productivity, reduce facility expenses, support environmental goals, reduce employee transportation requirements, and improve readiness for COOP scenarios, initiating telework pilot projects will enable them to optimize their long-term results.
Kathy Kadilak is the former Telework Manager for the U.S. Department of Justice and currently is Vice President of the Mid-Atlantic Telework Advisory Council and a telework consultant. She can be reached at email@example.com.