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News > Commentary - Telework policy provides benefits for organization, employee
 
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Enhanced policy has broad appeal
Maj. Shannon Mann, 916th Public Affairs officer, teleworks from her at-home office thanks to an enhanced telework policy passed by Congress in 2010. The enhanced policy was initially established to allow for continuation of operations during global health crisis, but has broader benefits for organizations and employees. (Courtesy photo)
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Telework policy provides benefits for organization, employee

Posted 2/28/2012   Updated 2/28/2012 Email story   Print story

    


Commentary by Maj. Shannon Mann
916th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs


2/28/2012 - SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. -- 2 a.m., Dec. 26, 2010

Ring, ring

"Hello?"

"This is the command post. The base will be closed to non-essential personnel due to the snow."

"Ok thanks, I'll update the Website and our Facebook page now to let folks know."
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There is no argument that the U.S. Air Force is the most technologically advanced service in the world.

We pride ourselves on looking to the future and adapting to changes that make us better warfighters.

Some of the changes might be questionable, like the uniform board of the early 90s, but overall the positive impact can be seen and felt by our Airmen within a relatively short period of time.

One such change started here in late 2011.

In 2001, a law mandated that all government executive agencies would allow 25 percent of their workforce to telework. In recent years the law was broadened to allow more government employees to telework. In late 2011, Seymour Johnson, as well as every other Air Force base, rolled out a policy for its civilian and Air Reserve Technician workforce.

While not all positions are eligible for telework, a vast majority do qualify. But the idea of teleworking goes against some long-standing cultural norms that predicate, 'If I can't see you then you must not be working.'

In 2005, I started my ART career at the 916th Air Refueling Wing. My husband held a high-pressure sales position that had him working and traveling around-the-clock. I knew that working 40 hours at the base, along with a weekly 10-hour commute time was going to be hard.

Knowing about the 2001 law I called HR only to be told be told, 'People can't be trusted to work from home.'

The comment infuriated me. As a public affairs officer my job is 24/7. I constantly work from my Blackberry and 'check-in' on weekends, evenings and while on vacation. How dare someone that didn't know me, or know my job, determine if I could be trusted or not? And didn't this statement go against a core value that our people have integrity?

At the time my commander devised a plan to allow me to take the job as the chief of public affairs while using leave without pay in order to balance my work and home situations. He still had his PAO, and I had time with my family...I just got paid 16 hours less a week. In 2009, life changed and I started making the daily commute to the base...40+ hours a week and an exhausting drive time.

Then, in August 2011, came the announcement I'd been waiting for.

When the enhanced telework policy was mentioned last summer I was the first in line. Finally I could continue to do the job I loved AND balance my outside life.

I've learned a lot about this program in a just the past few months. There are ups and downs, but if implemented correctly a strong telework program benefits everyone.

First, the enhanced program came about because of the spread of bird flu in the U.S. The government needed a plan to allow for the continuation of work in times of global health crisis.

Makes sense right? While we may not be facing a pandemic at this point I think everyone can relate that it's aggravating to be around that person in the office hacking and coughing with the common cold. Obviously they can still work, but at the risk of infecting us all. The same goes for a lot of other ailments.

Next, the government does see the enhanced policy as a way to be greener.

So what if the electric bill dips a few cents each week because you're not using your computer or your lights? What's a few cents?

In the grand scheme of things it can add up to a lot of savings in a time where our government is looking to cutback and save. In addition, because my car is off the road four hours a week now I save big on gas, maintenance and road rage. And hopefully nature benefits with less emissions.

Third, it is hard to change cultural norms and stereotypes.

We all have a part in this. If employees are trusted to do their jobs from 9-5, produce on-time, quality work, and meet the standards for their jobs (mandatory trainings, meetings, conferences) then starting with a situational telework schedule should be discussed. Granted we don't all drive 50 miles each way, but chances are we've all had to take off work to wait for the cable guy or repairman.

Next, you better be able to plan your work and show deliverables.

A big part of the success of a telework program is that you can forecast and plan your work for telecommuting purposes. Think about the things you do behind a computer screen. I update Websites, track training, update public affairs databases, run self-inspection checklists, fill out appraisals and evaluations, write stories and answer an onslaught of emails and coordinate with the media and community via phone, text and email. But I have a plan for what will get accomplished at my alternate work location and my boss can check the deliverables anytime.

Finally, it isn't for everyone. Some people know their limitations. They know that by just being at-home they would be distracted and not productive. Maybe they need the daily social and structural environment an office provides. To those who do know this and have verbalized it I applaud you.

For me, our new policy saved my Air Force Reserve career. In 2010, I started looking seriously at other government agencies that did have a policy and encouraged telework.

Teleworking adds balance to my life. I believe I have the right amount of time focused on the job and on my family now. I am just a better, more well-rounded employee, wife and mother.

Teleworking isn't just a fad. It's a program to ensure the sustainment of operations and help our people manage the increasing demands and stress of work and family life. As we look at more cutbacks, and doing more with less, this program is one that helps us all.



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