Successfully implementing FEMA’s transformation to a mobile workplace will require changes in how agency managers evaluate the performance of their employees. Because employees may be doing a significant amount of their work away from the office, focusing on results-oriented performance metrics, over “line of sight” attendance-oriented metrics, is more important than ever.
Last week I attended a Telework Exchange Webinar as Nathan Manle, acting director of manpower, personnel, and security, at the Defense Information Systems Agency, discussed how about 51 percent of the agency’s 16,000 employees operate outside of Headquarters in about 75 operating locations around the world. This means that regardless of whether employees are teleworking or at a DISA field office, managers have grown accustomed to managing remote workers by developing tools and feedback mechanisms to measure their performance.
Manle also made clear that regular office workers and teleworkers are held to the same performance standards. For instance, all employees are required to file an activity report each day to detail their work plans and accomplishments which has the added advantage of helping to foster cross-communication throughout the agency.
DISA’s mobility culture, which requires all teleworking employees to take their equipment home every night, allowed them to have more than 2,000 continue to work last July 2, when a string of major storms knocked out power in the D.C. area. “When they have to telework in an emergency situation, they always have their equipment with them, and they are able to continue accomplishing the mission,” he said. And, having clear, measurable standards are key to their success in transforming into a mobile workplace.
However, creating a true performance culture is not always easy, and requires a different managerial mindset. As Robert Pozen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute wrote in a New York Times Business Day article, “The traditional emphasis on face time, after all, is easy for managers: it takes less effort to count hours than it does to measure results.” Because managers cannot take attendance for employees who are working off-site, Pozen argues that it is necessary to “forge a new relationship” between managers and employees. He has outlined three steps toward that end:
- Establish a clear consensus on metrics for every project. With clear metrics, both manager and employee can be comfortable with how results are judged.
- Keep lines of communication open. Objectives and deadlines can change. Because ad hoc meetings in the hall won’t be possible, be sure communication is maintained in other ways.
- See to it that goals and objectives are met on time and are of high quality. The best way to get comfortable with a new way of doing things is to do it successfully and repeatedly.
Several organizations within the Department of Homeland Security have completed pilots to test the new mobile workforce concept. Customs and Border Protection and the DHS Office of the Chief Readiness Support Office are two excellent examples of creating a performance-based culture that follow the steps above.
For example, CBP has implemented quick, outcome-based staff meetings that are optimized for keeping remote workers “in the loop”. Efficient meetings are another tenant of Pozen’s for increased productivity – “Create an agenda at least a day in advance…. everyone agrees on the next steps, with each step assigned to one participant with a specific deadline.”
The OCRSO has also embraced Pozen’s principles by ensuring they have a SharePoint site that allows for intuitive communication within their team at all times.
As we saw from this Wednesday’s snow storm in the Washington area, the ability to have employees ready to telework allowed FEMA and other agencies to continue their daily operations even when Government offices were closed. We are truly paving the way to becoming a mobile centric workforce.