Althouht I am skeptical of the managerial talent of the Federal government, one thing they can do well is utilize new technology (the government has the potential to do this, but rarely does so). According to this article in FCW.com the FAA has
Dubbed the Knowledge Service Network (KSN), it represents an office environment, complete with doors and desks….
KSN’s core technology is Microsoft SharePoint Services, which handles document management, task tracking, library functions, calendar updates and other functions related to scheduling and training.
The Federal government can be a great incubator of new technology since contracts with the Feds allows tech firms to get a reliable cash flow stream. Once the technology has proven itself, the private sector can jump on board. The software described above seems like a good effort at replicating a real-life office environment online. However, virtual office software will have to offer an office environment that is vastly improved and very different from the bricks and mortar office. For example, many modules in the software should be automatically structured to facilitate process management. This requires more than just clever software though, it also requires effective business process management, which the is something the Federal government probably won’t utilize.
Citizen Communications is incorporating a work at home initiative as part of its efforts to improve service quality and market competitiveness (read cost control). This homeshoring effort will be executed in conjunction with a consolidation drive that will greatly reduce the number of call center and combine them into two large call-centers.
It will be interesting to see if other firms which depend on a high quality call-center force will follow this strategy of consolidation and homeshoring. It makes sense because one traditional argument for having multiple call centers spread out across different time zones was that the company could offer 24/7 service. However, homeshoring make diversification across time zones a non-issue for call centers. Instead, it becomes reasonable to consolidate call center operations into a few physical locations to take care of call volume at peak hours. Other times can be handled by the work at home workforce.
In this article from Network World, telework advocate respond to the opposition to telework that has grown since a Veteran's Admin. laptop with valuable personal info on it was stolen. In particular I like the point made by Steve O'Keeffe, executive director of Telework Exchange:
"The analyst whose laptop was stolen from his house was not a teleworker, just someone who took work home with him. To link the incident to telecommuting is a mischaracterization, says Steve O'Keeffe, executive director of Telework Exchange. "I don't understand why it has been painted this way," O'Keeffe says. "The chap is not a teleworker. He brought work — sensitive but unclassified information — out of the office. But anyone could do that."
Also, there is at least one politician who not only understands the value of telework, but also understands what motivates managers, money:
To speed things up, lawmakers such as Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) have proposed financial penalties for agencies that resist teleworking. Two years running, Wolf has inserted language in spending bills requiring agencies such as NASA and the Commerce, Justice and State departments show an increase in the number of federal workers telecommuting or forfeit $5 million each.
Unfortunately, the biggest incentive to change is simply the threat that mangers who aren't team players won't be on the team after the next round of layoffs. Of course, this threat is a non-issue in the federal government since even the most grotesquely incompetent managers linger around for years thanks to federal governments reluctance to demand performance out of them.
According to this article in Computerworld, managers of federal agencies are opposed to telework. This is unsurprising and frankly who can blame them? As the article points out, federal agencies must return excess funds to the federal government rather than reaping the rewards of effective cost savings. Why go through the stress and effort of making a significant change (which home-based work will entail) when you are not effectively rewarded by it. Unfortunately, this lack of incentives is not only applicable to telework initiative but to any effort at cost savings or productivity enhancement. This yet another reason why the private sector, not government will lead the way in implementing home-based work solutions.
This time it is the Defense Dept. that has successfully expanded its telework force. One thing to note about this effort is that the telework program simply allows employees to work out of the office only four days every two weeks. Unfortunately, that means that employees are still in the office half of the time and therefore taking up office space and wasting dollars on rent that could be spent elsewhere (in this its our tax dollars being wasted.