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Disaster Preparedness 2011: Telework plans are crucial for preparedness

Sam Davis

The Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 created a lot of buzz around the word “telework.” President Obama signed this Act into law in December 2010.

According to an Office of Personnel Management (OPM) memorandum, the Act provides a framework for agencies to better leverage technology and to maximize the use of flexible work arrangements, which will aid in recruiting new federal workers, retain valuable talent and allow the government to maintain productivity in various situations.

When building effective telework programs for each agency, three key objectives are recognized by OPM: ( 1 ) to improve continuity of operations, using telework to keep government operational during inclement weather or other emergencies; ( 2 ) to promote management effectiveness, using telework to target reductions in management costs related to employee turnover and absenteeism, also reducing real estate costs, environmental impact and transit costs; and ( 3 ) to enhance work-life balance, using telework to allow employees to better manage their work and family obligations, retaining a more resilient workforce better able to meet agency goals.

It has been nearly a year since President Obama signed this Act, and that year has proven just how important telework can be and the many benefits it provides, especially during times of disaster. From power outages to flooding to unexpected earthquakes, natural disasters across the globe this year have interrupted normal work routines, closing government office buildings for significant stretches of time.

One of the most obvious advantages of telework -- as related to disaster preparedness -- is the decentralization it provides. If power is lost, or floods or other natural disasters require an office to be closed, the team that is able to telework from remote locations can get back to work more quickly to continue supporting the mission.

As mandated by the Telework Enhancement Act, each agency has been working on incorporating telework, as it fits their needs and the needs of their employees. One example, pointed out in a recent NextGov article, explains how the Peace Corps is adapting telework to benefit that agency. The Peace Corps, which has nine national recruiting offices across the country, has used telework to create field-based recruiters. The agency has already enjoyed savings on travel and real estate costs since implementing these changes.

The advantages of telework can be seen not only nationally, but worldwide as well. A recent First Post article explains how more Japanese firms are embracing telework after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and the subsequent suspension of other nuclear power facilities, meant companies had to do whatever they could to save energy in the midst of greatly reduced electrical supply. By allowing telework, one organization has been able to switch off lighting, alternately, on an entire floor, significantly diminishing its energy costs.

An official for one of the organizations embracing telework explains that they have decided to take these precautionary measures because it would be too late to act if and when another disaster strikes. In addition to disaster preparedness, they are also promoting telework so that employers can retain talented workers that they might lose in the absence of such flexibility.

Leadership development training is crucial when implementing telework within a government organization. Especially as the use of telework grows, and the government relies more on decentralized staff and self-reliant and self-motivated workers, certain leadership skills become more important, particularly what we call “The Four C’s”:

  • Critical thinking and problem solving -- the ability to make decisions, solve problems and take actions as appropriate.
  • Effective communication -- the ability to synthesize and transmit your ideas both in written and oral form.
  • Collaboration and team building -- the ability to work effectively with others, including those from diverse groups and with opposing points of view.
  • Creativity and innovation -- the ability to see what's not there and make something happen.

It is clear that telework carries significant benefits when it comes to disaster preparedness and continuity of operations. Leadership development training must be implemented as part of any effective telework effort, to ensure that the workforce has the skills and capabilities needed to keep operations running smoothly. The better government organizations become at instituting telework, the smoother continuity of operations can be implemented in times of disaster.

Sam Davis, is vice president of AMA Enterprise Government Solutions. He can be reached at:

sdavis@amanet.org

 

 

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