Telework progress still lagging, survey shows
Despite increasingly proven value -- most recently during a two-day power outage in Washington D.C. that left some agency buildings dark -- agencies are still slow in expanding telework, according to a new survey by the Telework Exchange.
The survey found that more than 75 percent of the agencies have completed policies required under the Telework Enhancement Act and had notified workers of their eligibility to work outside the traditional office. Agencies have determined that 72 percent of their employees are eligible to telework, but fewer than one-third are actually participating.
Bob Dix, vice president of government affairs and critical infrastructure protection for Juniper Networks and a member of the Telework Exchange, said the survey "provides tangible evidence of the traction that telework is gaining across agencies."
However, Dix said the number of employees taking advantage of the possibility of telework is still well short of the goal of having 62 percent of employees working outside the office during every pay period, and significant challenges remain in implementing telework programs.
“It is still a little early,” he said. “It will take a while.” Success will depend on the ability to accurately measure results and progress, gain management support, and establish the necessary infrastructure to enable telework.
Under the law passed last year, executive branch agencies have until June 9 to meet these initial requirements and until late July to update IT acquisition policies to include tools that enable and promote telework.
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It has long been government policy to support telework. But outside of a few agencies such as the Patent and Trademark Office, adoption has been spotty. Studies have identified benefits to the practice, including increased productivity, improved employee morale, money savings and environmental advantages. These benefits, coupled with the rapid expansion of personal technology enabling remote access to online resources, culminated in last year’s passage of the Telework Enhancement Act.
The act requires agencies to establish policies and notify employees, name an official to be in charge of telework efforts, establish training programs, and include telework in continuity-of-operations planning.
The Telework Exchange, a cooperative effort between industry and government, conducted the survey in May to gauge progress. It questioned 354 people, including 37 telework managing officers, a selection that Dix called a “reasonable sampling,” to give meaningful results.
The survey showed that 86 percent of agencies involved had established a telework policy, 84 percent had determined eligibility of employees, and 76 percent had notified all employees of eligibility. Similar numbers had named a managing officer, established training programs, and established systems to collect and track telework data.
Dix said that significant hurdles remaining to full implementation of telework programs include:
- Capturing and managing data to determine program success. “That’s the piece that is going to be really critical,” he said. Agencies will have to establish clear goals and criteria for success as well as metrics to assess progress.
- Training, for both workers and managers. Culture has been a long-standing barrier to effective telework policies, and both participants and their managers need to become comfortable with the practice and clearly understand expectations on both sides.
- Technology support. “We’re not there yet,” Dix said. “I think the market has delivered robust solutions” to enable cost-effective and secure telework. “Now it’s a matter of adoption.” Plans for incorporating that technology into acquisition policies are due July 28.
William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.