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Employee Perspective: Making the most of telework

Portrait of Kathryn Dawson horseback.
Kathryn Dawson, public affairs specialist, Pacific Northwest Region

OREGON—Whether you work in the field or you work in the office, the Forest Service has a long history of getting work done in some of the most unusual of places. It’s in our decentralized nature, and from the tops of our fire towers to the most far-flung of timber sales, we know how to keep in touch.

We do our jobs well and we take pride in our work and in our innovations, and just as we were the first federal agency to deliver on giving all of our employees email access, many of you will be the first people in your positions to deliver on our mission while working from your homes.

Telework is trust work, and in addition to needing a healthy layer of trust between you and your supervisor, it requires that you be able to trust yourself. You have to have the ability to keep your promises and obligations, the drive to stay on task and the ingenuity to find ways in which you can actively participate. It’s not that different from what we do in the office, but working from home gives us the chance and opportunity to do things even better.

Take our staff meetings, for instance. In the office, these are often activities where a group of people physically congregate, but only one of them can effectively disseminate information at any given time. That’s because it’s hard to listen to more than one person talk, but when we’re teleworking and using tools like Microsoft Teams and Adobe Connect, we can ask questions without interrupting by sending a message in the chat window. We can share our screens and make our meetings more feature rich by easily adding video and weblinks, and we even have the ability to see each other live and in-person through video chat and our built-in laptop cameras.

A home office set-up with a desk, office chair, and enough light for visibility.
Dedicated workspaces offer the best in ergonomics and productivity and the fewest distractions. USDA Forest Service photo by Kathryn Dawson.
Temporary workspace set up with a laptop on a kitchen table.
If short on space try your living room, kitchen or vehicle for privacy and quietness during conference calls. USDA Forest Service photo by Kathryn Dawson.


Working from home can give us more flexibility when it comes to our schedules, and for those who like to work early in the morning or late into the night it can be easy to find time to be excessively productive. And to maximize that productivity even further there’s a few things you can do to enhance your telework experience.

First and foremost a dedicated workspace should be in order. While it can be tempting to want to just lounge around the bedroom, the ergonomics and ability to stay on task will be much better in a space that you can associate as separate from where you sleep. There’s a lot to be said about ergonomics, and when working for long periods of time it’s essential to have a comfortable chair and enough room to keep your wrists straight while you type. Proper lighting is also key, with sunlight being best followed by strategically placed lamps and lighting in order to prevent any kind of eye strain.

If you find yourself travelling or your situation doesn’t allow for a separate home office there are still ways to make telework work for you. Carving out a corner of your hotel room or living room, setting up shop in your dining room or kitchen or seeking out privacy in your car in the driveway—it can all be done if you do it consistently.  

And we can do it well. Teleworking can be a real improvement over the ways that we’ve traditionally done business, and as we lean into this practice as a group the opportunity to find even better ways is sure to present itself. So stay vigilant and stay hopeful, and if you have any other teleworking best practices or hints please shared them through the Leadership Corner Forum (internal link).

Because we’re all in this together, no matter where we happen to be sitting. 

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