Defense Department component agencies should ensure their IT and communications infrastructure can support maximum telework, according to a new report from the DOD inspector general.
When the pandemic hit, some Defense Department component agencies got off to a rocky start moving their staff and workloads to maximum telework, according to a new report from the DOD inspector general.
In the IG’s survey of nearly 55,000 DOD workers during the early days and months of the pandemic, teleworkers reported issues with spotty network connectivity to DOD component networks, slow network speeds and software malfunctions as the department pivoted to maximum telework.
Some teleworkers (about 14%) struggled to get necessary government-furnished equipment, such as printers, Wi-Fi hotspots or the tools needed for off-site classified work.
Some DOD components had infrastructure in place and had conducted IT and communications tests and exercises to support maximum telework, preparing them for the quick transition. Others, however, “could not provide sufficient network access, communications systems, or the necessary equipment … and needed to increase their network capacity and infrastructure, provide communication capabilities, or acquire additional equipment to support maximum telework for their respective personnel,” the report said.
Besides equipment and infrastructure issues, survey respondents early on cited a lack of access to or training on applications required during maximum telework, such as file sharing, voice, teleconferencing and video conferencing.
As a result, “some teleworking personnel found their own alternative solutions including the use of unauthorized video conferencing applications and personal laptops, printers, and cell phones to complete their work because some DoD Components were unprepared for maximum telework,” according to the IG.
IT and communications complaints dropped considerably, nearly by half, months later when the IG surveyed the workforce in August.
The inspector general recommended DOD's assistant secretary for homeland defense and global security revamp DOD's pandemic implementation plan to account for telework by essential and non-essential personnel.
Each component should also update their respective plans "to include revised assumptions regarding telework for personnel and the resources required to support the teleworking workforce," in addition to DOD's Implementation Plan for Pandemic Influenza aligning with its telework policy, the report stated.
The report comes as DOD has already begun to embrace flexible work solutions, including personnel bringing their own approved devices, securing network activity and moving to a permanent replacement to the Commercial Virtual Remote capability that allows DOD workers to access a Microsoft Teams environment on personal devices. The Air Force has also started looking to increase connectivity from bases to expanding telework options.
However, DOD may need to re-evaluate its standard telework policies since there's clear preference to have it as an everyday option beyond emergencies.
The IG found that 68% of survey respondents wanted to regularly telework in the future, with about half of all respondents appreciating not having a commute, better work life balance and more flexible schedules. Nearly 90% of teleworkers expressed maintaining or improving productivity compared to being in the office.
Overall, nearly 88% of respondents to the telework survey worked remotely at least part time, with about 12% working on site because they weren't eligible for telework or their work couldn't be done remotely.
This article was first posted to FCW, a sibling site to Defense Systems.