Imagine a work life that includes two or more days a week of working from home and a compressed work schedule that gives you an extra day off every other week, covers half the cost of installation and service fees for home broadband, and the ability when you are in the office to take up to three work hours a week to attend on-site fitness instruction. Does the Department of Defense come to mind?
You might not believe the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) would be a hotbed of telecommuting, but it is. The federal agency, made up of 5,000 civilians and 1,600 to 1,700 military personnel, provides information systems support for the DoD.
According to Jack Penkoske, the director for manpower, personnel and security, about 40 percent of the highly technical workforce is doing what the agency calls “teleworking” either on a regular basis or ad hoc.
In part the teleworking program is intended to help the agency retain people after it consolidates DISA operations in the Washington, D.C. area to Ft. Meade, Maryland starting in 2010. “But in the larger scheme, it’s something we would do anyway,” said Penkoske.
DISA has discovered, he said, that even jobs with a physical component to them — such as facilities inspector — can provide opportunities for teleworking. “There’s going to be a day out of the week where they have to write up reports,” he explained. “It’s more time management. You segment the work that way.”
The agency’s turnover rate is relatively low at six percent, good news at a time when the feds are facing the baby-boomer retirement crisis in its ranks. One 2004 DoD estimate said that 43 percent of its civilians workers would be eligible to retire by 2009. Penkoske said that in the past couple of years, DISA has been able to reduce the average age of its employees to be three years below the federal average.
The road to a home-based workforce has faced “pockets of resistance,” said Penkoske. “Our strategy over the last couple of years has been, knock down any of the barriers.”
They’ve included the usual, such as the argument that DISA lacked the right equipment. Now, nine of 10 computers are mobile (each outfitted with a card reader for security purposes).
Another objection among managers: How do we measure productivity? Penkoske’s response. You do it the same way as when the employee is sitting in front of you for eight hours. “If you have good measures in place now, you can continue to measure it.”
Ironically, as an executive, Penkoske doesn’t telework yet, nor do the other executives in the agency. That was a conscious decision, he said, made to ensure that the leadership ranks wouldn’t exploit telework before ordinary personnel had the equipment and training they needed to be able to do it. “We telework on Saturdays and Sundays,” he joked.
“We believe in telework — for a lot of reasons you hear: morale purposes and quality of life, [to reduce] traffic congestion and pollution” said Penkoske. “Where we really try to put the focus on is if telework is done correctly, it should as a minimum keep the same — and in most cases increase — productivity… Who’s going to argue with that?”