Feds stay home in droves for Telework Week

Results show increased productivity, savings and reduced environmental impact, group says

This story was updated at 9:25 a.m., April 1, to correct a statistic on the estimated amount of pollutants saved during Telework Week.

If anyone is unaware that federal employees are interested in teleworking, the results of last month’s National Telework Week might get the point across.

A total of 39,694 people participated in the program by working from home at least two days during the week of Feb. 14, and 86 percent of them were feds, according to the National Telework Exchange.

Telework Week was an effort to encourage teleworking in government and private-sector organizations, and to showcase the quality of living, economic and ecological benefits of skipping the regular commute to the office. The results were shared Tuesday in a Webcast for reporters.

Managers and employees surveyed after the event reported increased productivity from employees working from home, said Cindy Auten, general manager of the Telework Exchange. “That’s become one of the key drivers,” she said.


Related coverage:

Telework on the sly: How many feds really work outside the office?

Federal telework to-do list


The Telework Exchange estimated, based on an average round-trip daily commute of 50 miles, that two days of teleworking a week amounts to a savings of $3,439 a year. Dan Kent, CTO at Cisco federal, a supporter of the exchange’s efforts, said that Cisco has found that its employees who telework end up spending about 60 percent of the time they save by not commuting on their work.

But despite the apparent benefits for both employer and employee, adoption of telework is not always easy, Kent said.

“It’s a culture change,” he said. Managers have to have metrics for measuring performance of workers who are not in the office every day. And security is an issue, although it need not be a deal breaker, Kent said. “The technology is there to ensure that teleworking is secure.”

Thin clients for home use are less expensive than full-featured PCs, and virtual desktops and applications can improve security by keeping data inside the data center, putting only an image on the desktop.

It has long been federal policy to promote telework, and Congress bolstered the policy last year with legislation.

The Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 requires agencies to establish policies and designate telework managing officers, and calls for the Office of Personnel Management to develop regulations for implementing telework policies, as well as guidelines for IT acquisition that would support telework. The Office of Management and Budge,t together with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, will establish security guidelines for remote workers. By June 9, all federal employees will be notified of their eligibility for telework under the new policies.

The General Services Administration is the lead agency for enabling government telework and is a leader in putting the concept into practice. Eighty-five percent of GSA employees have been identified as eligible for telework, according to GSA Administrator Martha Johnson, and 42 percent now work outside the office at least two days every pay period.

According to the Telework Exchange, 2,864 GSA employees agreed to participate in Telework Week. Throughout the federal government, 34,131 employees took part by teleworking at least two days that week. The Washington metro area had the highest number of participants in the effort, with 29,353 workers, although the percentage of federal employees in that number was not broken out.

Based on a survey conducted after the week, 44 percent of the federal employees participating already teleworked at least once a week and 22 percent said they teleworked on an ad-hoc basis. Ten percent of the participants said they were first-time teleworkers.

Based on an average daily commute of 50 miles, with cost factors including the price of gasoline, the cost of operating an automobile, the Telework Exchange estimated that participants in the one-week effort avoided driving 3.2 million miles, saved themselves 126,752 hours on the road, avoided 1,500 tons of pollutants and saved $2.3 million in commuting costs.

It estimated that if all eligible federal workers telecommuted two days a week, they would avoid driving 5.5 billion miles and save $3.8 billion in commuting costs over the course of a year.

Recommendations from participants about the technology needed to enable teleworking included:

  • “Continue to improve the IT infrastructure to ensure maximum efficiency of all systems and applications.”
  • “Offer more training on higher level collaboration and IT tools; not just the basic stuff.”
  • “Improve the use of an electronic file system so that all hard copies are available from anywhere.”

 

About the Author

William Jackson is freelance writer and the author of the CyberEye blog.

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Reader comments

Fri, Apr 13, 2012 Stephanie P Washington State

I have to respond to a comment above by the GSA employee to not liking it. The question I ask is, was it set up correctly? We have been banging out the kinks in teleworking for 3 years now on 0 budget. Not having the right tools or infrastructure can be very difficult and painful. If it is set up correctly, you have good communication tools, connection and a good work area. Communications is key to the social aspect. Secondly, this is a new way of working so it takes more than two days to figure out how best to do your job and gain the well done work satisfaction and see the benefits from teleworking. I do agree it is not for some people, and there is nothing wrong with that. In my workplace it seems those who are extroverts do best in the office, face to face, while others seem to be adapting. And once you have done it for a time (a real attempt in decent conditions [communications, work area, connectivity] should be at least two weeks) you have adapted and will start to see all the benefits to your employer and yourself. At first I said I would never do more than 2 days because of the social aspect. Now I wish they would let me do 4 days/week. It is an adjustment, but the social aspect can be stronger for it if done correctly and given the chance. Our teams communicate better now than ever before. There is no more wasted time in meetings and their organized better. We have more social events to continue to keep the team personally attached and enjoying each other outside the mainstream work. It’s really amazing how many people will show up after work to hang out with co-workers when work is running smoother and less painfully.

Mon, Apr 4, 2011 Garcia

From the employees that did not like telework, I hear that it's a "social" reason. From those that did like it, it's travel time (fuel/maintenance costs), skipping traffic jams, less auto emissions, better work/family time management, experienced workers can better focus on tasks and not training other workers, access to training webinars (not blocked by agency firewalls), etc... . The list can go on and on.

Fri, Apr 1, 2011 SOTE COntractor Federal Agency

If anyone from my agency participated in the National Telework Week, it wasn't any of the contractors. There was NO mention of this by ANY Fed. But then again. teleworking is really ONLY for Feds.

Fri, Apr 1, 2011 GSA Employee Washington, DC

I did participate in telework week with my entire work group and worked from home one day. I really did not like it and neither did most of my work group. Sure I was able to do my work (thankfully I had some things I could do), I felt like I was being punished. Solitary confinement isn't all it's cracked up to be. When you write about all of those employees who are not teleworking, please remember that there are a god number of us who tried it and don't like it. Also, we need to quit writing about telework as being for the employee's benefit because they choose to live FAR from their work. Where one works relative to where they live is a choice each employee makes. If some people don't like commuting 25 or 30 miles one way to work, then do what I did and move closer to work.

Thu, Mar 31, 2011 Christina Morrison, HP Washington D.C.

Great to see that 10% of the teleworkers were first-timers! That tells me that this week gave an opportunity to some feds who might not have considered it before. I believe it is also noteworthy that both managers and employees saw increased productivity as a result – seeing that data first hand could make the difference in making the argument for teleworking.

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