Telework: Risk Versus Rewards

Shell Culp discusses the benefits and challenges of telework in government agencies.

by / May 20, 2009

Photo: Shell Culp, CIO for the Department of Toxic Substances Control

At the Conference on California's Future, CIO for the Department of Toxic Substances Control, Shell Culp, discussed the importance of telework in the way government agencies operate. Ready or not, telework is on California's horizon, she said. But what does that mean for employees, managers and the state as a whole?

The benefits of telework are easily identified:

  • Fewer people on the road means improved air quality and less traffic.
  • Continuity of business as part of a disaster recovery or emergency plan.
  • Facilitates optimum utilization of facilities.
  • Reduces absentee rates.
  • Promotes health and wellness.
  • Employees are free to be more creative and will have access to more perspectives.

But what are the trade-offs and potential challenges teleworking would present?

  • Meetings can become a challenge.
  • Information sharing can be difficult.
  • People -- both in and out of the office -- can feel alienated.
  • Puts sensitive data at risk.
  • Managers may find it hard to manage those working out of the office.

Some strategies on how to successfully employ telework are:

  • Establish relationships between employees.
  • Manage deliverables.
  • Engage in more dialog around employee development and goals.
  • Trust until you have reason not to.

The question of who provides the necessary equipment for teleworkers also needs to be answered, said Culp. Do employees use their own laptop computes or does the agency provide it? Does the agency pay for broadband at the teleworker's home or not? Although both practices are acceptable, more agencies are providing teleworkers with equipment because it helps mitigate the security risks.

When successfully carried out, telework has the ability to drastically reduce operating costs. However, many organizations do not have the planning or processes in place to manage teleworkers. According to Culp, it is necessary for organizations and agencies to have very specific policies and guidelines for teleworkers. And while telework is ideal for many positions, it is important to know that there are some positions or people for which telework will never be an option. But because of the potential reduction of costs and environmental impact, departments should consider telework, when feasible, an alternative to a more traditional work environment.