During the week of March 5–9, more than 6,400 GSA staffers—about half of the agency’s workforce—didn’t show up at their office. But those workers weren’t sick or slacking off—they were participating in National Telework Week by working from home, a shared workplace, or an office other than their own. Participation more than doubled since last year, when 3,200 GSA employees took part, and included staffers from across the nation. GSA Chief Martha Johnson told Government Executive that nearly 100 percent of the Boston regional office participated, and Chicago staffers treated the project as if it were a “continuity of operations” maneuver following a heavy snowstorm or natural disaster.
Now, GSA is taking the exercise even further. To encourage an even more mobile workforce, the agency’s Office of Strategy Management is implementing a 30-day “telework wave” in which its employees must work away from their own offices. “Anybody can do this for a week and not change anything,” said Steve Kemp, commissioner of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service, at a March 15 event sponsored by several federal information technology groups. “But when you have to work differently for an entire month, you’re going to have to learn some different behaviors and different cultures and different ways of operating.”
“Work is what we do, not where we are,” states the current GSA Order on Mobility and Telework Policy, which stresses that “GSA supports the broadest possible use of telework, up to and including full time telework, by eligible Agency employees.” The order also specifies that all GSA employees are eligible for telework, and that “all eligible employees are authorized to telework to the maximum extent possible.” Widespread teleworking at GSA is freeing up space at its headquarters and other offices to be shared by floating employees, who reserve rooms and desks to use as they need them, rather than having their own dedicated (and often empty) workspaces. We expect this practice to significantly reduce the agency’s real estate footprint in coming years—and to serve as a bellwether for other federal agencies.
In response to the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, GSA established a Telework Program Management Office that is now sharing its knowledge and best practices with other federal agencies. GSA’s teleworking rate is among the highest in the federal government, topped only by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Nearly half of GSA’s employees telework at least occasionally, putting it on track to meet its goal of becoming the government’s model agency for embracing 21st century workplace flexibility, “preparing itself to model, consult, and guide itself and the entire Federal government on essential workplace and workforce transformation.” GSA already has been recognized for its leadership in expanding teleworking; last month, the agency received the Excellence in Telework and Workforce Modernization award from the Government Technology Research Alliance.