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Vol. LXIV, No. 2
January 20, 2012
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Good for Employees, Good for NIH
Telework Festival Stresses Benefits of Working Offsite

On the front page...

In a lighthearted skit, onsite employee Leo Gumapas deals with a flat tire during his rush-hour commute, as teleworker Sarah (r) lingers over breakfast at home.
In a lighthearted skit, onsite employee Leo Gumapas deals with a flat tire during his rush-hour commute, as teleworker Sarah (r) lingers over breakfast at home.
Leo’s workday started badly and only got worse. In a hurry, he left home without breakfast, got a flat in rainy rush-hour traffic on I-270, and was splashed by the NIH shuttle bus while changing the tire. He arrived an hour late to campus only to realize he’d forgotten his ID badge. After going through the visitor center entrance and searching for a parking spot, he was just getting to his desk when his boss dropped by to remark on his tardiness, push for urgent delivery of an assignment and wave off Leo’s application for telework as “a bunch of hooey.”

By day’s end, Leo would have to wrest a meager lunch of crackers from a vending machine, add a face-to-face meeting at an off-campus building to his already full schedule, navigate home through a fluke snowstorm and miss his son’s game-winning soccer goal. Mama said there’d be days like this.


Continued...

Sarah Crowell, acting as an NIH teleworker, is dressed comfortably for work
Sarah Crowell, acting as an NIH teleworker, is dressed comfortably for work.

By contrast, Sarah’s workday was idyllic. She slept a little later, but was still able to not only fit in a morning exercise but also fix her husband pancakes for breakfast. She logged in to work on time, in leisure clothes and slippers.

By the end of her workday, she’d consulted several times by phone, instant message or email with her coworkers, prepared herself a healthy lunch, fielded a good-news phone call from her personal doctor and planned a pot roast for her family’s favorite supper.

“Wow, that was a really productive day,” Sarah concluded. “You know, maybe it’s okay that I’m not getting a pay raise for a couple of years, because I’m at least saving time, money, gas, wear and tear on my car. I feel like it’s a pretty good deal.”

From his home in Florida, NEI’s Dave Whitmer (on screen) joins a panel via teleconference.
From his home in Florida, NEI’s Dave Whitmer (on screen) joins a panel via teleconference.

In case you haven’t caught on, Sarah teleworks. Leo does not. When the two (and a troupe of coworkers) performed their fictional days on stage at the first NIH Telework Festival a few weeks ago, their differences—and the event’s message—could not have been clearer.

“Telework works, not just for the employee but also for the organization,” said Christine Major, director of NIH’s Office of Human Resources, which coordinated the festival.

Making the Case

NIH principal deputy director Dr. Lawrence Tabak examined telework from a scientist’s perspective. He presented data aimed particularly at managers and supervisors who have been reluctant to consider implementing telework.

Tom Hayden learns whether his commute to work is “green.”
Tom Hayden learns whether his commute to work is “green.”

“I could sum up the most compelling case for telework in one acronym—BRAC,” he said. [The Department of Defense’s base realignment and closure—BRAC—effort relocated major components of Walter Reed Army Medical Center to the grounds of National Naval Medical Center, which is just across the street from NIH’s main campus.]

Estimates show that as of September 2011 data, more than 307,000 fewer trips are being made by employees to the NIH campus because of telework, Tabak noted.

Offering staff the opportunity to work offsite has numerous positive effects: costs and energy savings, relief of traffic and congestion, workforce recruitment and retention, continuity of operations and emergency planning, as well as increased employee morale and productivity.

“According to Telework Exchange, if all eligible federal employees teleworked 2 days per week, the federal workforce would collectively save 3.3 billion dollars and 2.7 million tons of pollutants annually,” he concluded, citing a public-private organization that provides research and other resources on working offsite. “The overwhelming case for telework is strong.”

Reducing Environmental Impact

Guest speaker Howard Kelsey of HHS discusses telework and carbon footprints.
Guest speaker Howard Kelsey of HHS discusses telework and carbon footprints.

Howard Kelsey, HHS deputy assistant secretary for facilities management and policy, echoed the importance of limiting our carbon footprint on the planet.

“If you’re participating in a telework program,” he pointed out, “then you’re helping to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions. There is a connection between health and sustainability and telework and the environment. By teleworking and reducing our impact on the environment, we also support our health mission.”

About 34 percent of NIH’s workforce uses an alternative work schedule, he noted. The department average is about 24 percent, “so NIH as usual is leading the pack.

“You can make a difference by participating in telework, alternative work schedules, taking public transportation or using HOVs [high-occupancy vehicle lanes],” Kelsey concluded. “You all are making a difference every day. Some days, you can do that from home.”

Early Adopters Give Endorsement

NINR director Dr. Patricia Grady described “a year in the life of an institute coming to grips with introducing a new policy.

NIGMS’s Kimberly Allen (l) and Julie Broussard Berko of OHR talk about making telework work.
NIGMS’s Kimberly Allen (l) and Julie Broussard Berko of OHR talk about making telework work.

“We have successfully integrated telework into our organizational culture and our operations,” she said. More than half of NINR employees—55 percent—work from home at least once a week. That’s an increase of 150 percent since September 2010, when the institute first rolled out its policy, she said. Another 21 percent telework on an ad hoc basis as do all 23 members of its critical response team. About 76 percent of the NINR workforce has some kind of telework agreement in place.

“Not to say that there haven’t been hurdles to overcome,” Grady said, describing some of the challenges NINR faced and conquered with training and other resources. “Successful telework really does depend on responsible participation of both management and staff. We’ve found that telework does improve the health of individuals, communities and families. [As a result], we have been and will continue to be committed to making the policy work.”

Outstanding Ideas Lauded

Awards were announced for the “What’s Driving Telework” poster contest and for various NIH and departmental “green” initiatives. In later simultaneous workshops, managers discussed “How to Keep the Mission Moving and Driving Towards Excellence” and practical ways of “Making Telework Work for You.”

Employees visit telework resource exhibits.

Employees visit telework resource exhibits.

Photos: Bill Branson, Ernie Branson

“It’s helped me compartmentalize my life between work and family,” said one panelist, NEI Executive Officer Dave Whitmer, a nearly 7-year telecommuter who happened to be at work that day from his home in Florida. “Telework has helped me become a better manager of telework.”

Throughout the event, attendees could wander around the many resource exhibits, view a poster session on various aspects of worklife management or take in any of several technology demonstrations. NIH’ers can view the entire event, which is archived online in segments under Past Events at http://videocast.nih.gov/.

“We consider it a significant achievement for NIH to have been chosen [in 2010 by IBM’s Center for the Business of Government] as a cutting-edge agency for its successful telework program,” said Colleen Barros, NIH deputy director for management, noting a number of honors the agency has collected for its achievements in human resources.

“While we’re very proud of our accomplishments with telework, we have much more that can and should be done to promote the program and to get people on board with it. [Today’s festival tells] how telework is good for employees, but also good for management and good for NIH.”


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