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OPM will test new work flexibility program

Alyssa Rosenberg | Government Executive

April 01, 2010

Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry announced at a White House forum on Wednesday that he is moving 400 agency employees into a pilot program that will go beyond existing workplace flexibility and telework programs and could serve as a model for the rest of government.

“If flexibility can succeed in the federal government with the unrivaled complexity of our missions … as well as our red tape, quite frankly, it can succeed anywhere,” Berry told participants at the White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility, where President and Mrs. Obama also spoke.

The pilot program will move 400 employees at OPM’s headquarters, including Berry’s staff, into a human resources model known as Results-Only Work Environment. That strategy, developed by two HR experts, Jody Thompson and Cali Ressler, and first implemented at electronics retail chain BestBuy, eliminates mandatory work hours and even the requirement that employees come into the office. Instead, it evaluates employees only on their performance. In addition to private sector companies, Thompson and Ressler have worked with state and local governments, most recently the Human Services and Public Health Department of Hennepin County in Minnesota.

Ressler and Thompson will work directly with Berry to roll out the program during the next eight months, and the accounting and consulting firm Deloitte will measure the results, Berry said.

“If it’s not working, we’ll go back to the drawing board,” he told forum attendees. “But if it is, which I believe it will, it will become the cornerstone” of efforts to expand telework and workplace flexibility throughout the federal government.

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Obama backed Berry’s efforts, saying, “it’s about providing better, more efficient service for the American people — even in the face of snowstorms and other crises that keep folks from getting to the office.”

He said his administration will hold similar forums with business leaders across the country to continue to gather best practices on workplace flexibility. And he said Berry and Aneesh Chopra, the administration’s chief technology officer, will have his support in overcoming troublesome regulations, investing in secure technology to make telework easier, and training for managers to address their concerns about flexible scheduling.

The administration’s Council on Economic Advisers also released a report at the forum on the economic value of workplace flexibility. While the report said more data was needed to truly understand the spread of workplace flexibility programs like telework and their economic effects, employers must understand how valuable flexibility is to workers, said Christina Romer, who chairs the council.

“Everything from control over what hours you work, where you work, how you organize your work, is part of your compensation,” she said during Wednesday’s event. “What you’re getting at is firms often think about it as a cost, but what we found in the report is there are a lot of benefits.”

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