By Barbara Haga, September 12, 2022

I recently led a virtual training session on creating effective performance narratives as part of FELTG’s Federal Workplace 2022: Accountability, Challenges & Trends event, where I discussed several issues related to performance plans and narratives. I started with a quick discussion about plans for teleworkers. I thought it might be beneficial to explore that topic further here.

A request I have heard more than once in the past few months is a need for help with performance plans for teleworkers. This one usually leaves me scratching my head. How were managers holding people accountable for work results since 2020 if we are talking about creating plans for those workers in 2022?

Effective performance management and successful telework arrangements go hand in hand. That has been the requirement for more than ten years. Section 6502(b)(1) of the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 stated that agencies policies on telework had to “… ensure that telework does not diminish employee performance or agency operations.”

There would have to be some way to assess performance results, which should have come through individual performance requirements.

OPM’s updated telework guidance is published in the 2021 Guide to Telework and Remote Work in the Federal Government. For our purposes, we are not going to distinguish between routine telework, situational telework, or remote workers, because for this topic, the type of telework arrangement doesn’t matter.

Here is OPM’s key point regarding teleworkers and performance plans:

When implementing the telework program, managers should keep in mind that performance standards for teleworking employees must be the same as performance standards for non-teleworking employees. Also, management expectations for performance should be clearly addressed in an employee’s performance plan, regardless of whether or not the employee is a teleworker. When an employee participates in telework, expectations related to accountability do not differ by virtue of the telework arrangement.  (p.36)(underscoring added)

This guidance is not new. It has been this way since telework came on the scene.  Does that make sense?

Same Outcomes Reached Differently

The best way I know to explain it is that the teleworker is held to the same outcomes, but how the manager gets to the point of measuring that outcome might be different. Let’s use an example of an employee relations specialist preparing discipline and performance-based actions. Here is the Fully Successful standard for the critical element Technical Competence that is similar to standards I have used for staff members in the past.

Demonstrates a thorough under-standing of law, rule, and regulation that applies to the assigned functional area.  Provides effective management advisory services to assigned organizations which reflect well thought-out solutions and viable alternatives. Documents are clearly written and are prepared in keeping with agency format requirements.  Notices and decisions 1) incorporate up-to-date information in terms of agency policy and third-party decisions, 2) include appropriate citations to contracts, policies, etc., 3) clearly and completely cover the elements of the case, and 4) incorporate required information on employee rights in the matter.  Demonstrates a basic understanding of other personnel functional areas to ensure that his/her own work is fully integrated with other functions.

It would seem to me that this standard could work in either an in-person or telework situation. Perhaps in the pre-pandemic world, notices and decisions such as these were left on my desk with the case file so I could review them before they were issued. That way I had detailed information on the clarity of the elements of the case, whether due process was observed, whether the notice incorporated the latest case decisions, etc. In a world where this work is accomplished at a different location, I could still see the letter if it was sent by e-mail to me or through an automated system. What might be new is how I could see the case file remotely, so there would have to be an alternate arrangement for me to get those, but I would be judging the work on the same things regardless of whether my employee worked on that action down the hall or miles away from the agency office.

Better Methods Across the Board

Perhaps the need to evaluate the teleworker’s performance means that I recognize a new way to identify the outcomes for all employees. Determining whether effective advice was given might have been easier in a pre-pandemic world. Maybe, as the office head, I attended staff meetings with the serviced organizations, and I received regular feedback in those sessions about the quality of guidance provided. There may also have been a lot of informal interactions in the cafeteria or walking down the hall with those managers who were receiving guidance from my staff members. Things may be different now, but I still need to know whether the advice is effective. Just looking at the letter being issued doesn’t really tell me how well the manager was advised throughout the process.  One solution would be to do some follow-up on a sample of actions for all staff, not just the teleworkers.

Using a neutral method of choosing which cases I am going to follow up on, I could select a certain number of lower-level disciplinary actions and some adverse and performance-based actions for each of my employees. I could design a questionnaire or, perhaps, set up a time for a phone call to interview the manager involved in the action with a set of standard questions about how well they were walked through the steps of proposing/taking action.

Ultimately, as the rater, I would have to determine if the advice was effective – whether my employee allowed the manager to decide or tried to force the manager to take a particular action, whether my employee explained the steps of how various actions might take place, and what the potential issues might be that could come out of an action in terms of grievances, complaints, and appeals, etc.

It’s interesting that a lot of positions have measures about providing effective advice in their performance plans, but when I ask how that is assessed supervisors often answer: “Nobody complained.” That’s not enough – telework or in-person.

Next month we will look at some other related performance matters! [email protected]


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