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Are teleworkers slacking off?

If you ever had an inkling of doubt about the productivity claims of private-sector teleworkers, your reservations might just have been proven right: The findings of a new survey show that nearly one-fifth of those surveyed said they spend one hour or less per day actually working.

The nationwide CareerBuilder survey of nearly 5,300 nongovernment, fulltime employees set out to explore the productivity levels of private-sector teleworkers and their attitudes on working remotely. The results revealed that 17 percent of teleworkers committed an hour or less to work daily, and only 35 percent said they work eight or more hours. In all, 40 percent said they work between four and seven hours per day.

Cindy Auten, general manager at Telework Exchange, a public-private partnership focused on promoting telework in government, told Management Watch she was surprised by those numbers and would be “shocked” if she saw the same results among federal teleworkers.

“The federal government is so clearly defined on making sure you’re as, if not more, productive" when teleworking, she said. “There are a lot of performance management standards to uphold in the federal government, and in the private sector it’s really interesting that people can actually get away with not working. That begs the question, how are they measured?”

When given the opportunity to telework, federal employees have to adhere to certain standards that are stricter when compared with those in the private sector, and they’re also provided with training that has more structure, Auten said.

“I hear a lot of times that people say on their first day on the job, ‘I’ve been given a laptop, and I work from wherever.’ There are not as many parameters in place [in the private sector], and maybe there should be. Maybe this is a lesson the federal government can teach others -- to put a structure around the program and really focus and make sure employees are held accountable for their performance.”

The survey also showed that teleworkers are divided as to whether they’re more productive working at home or in the office. Thirty-seven percent say they get more done at work, while 29 percent report they’re more productive at home. The remaining 34 percent said they were equally productive at either location.

“Just because you’re eligible for telework doesn’t mean you’re a good candidate for it,” Auten about the respondents’ reported productivity levels.

Survey participants also listed the biggest distractions for working remotely: Household chores topped the list with 31 percent, followed by television (26 percent) and pets (23 percent). Errands, Internet and children were also mentioned as distractions, according to the survey.

“Regardless of where you are, you’re going to be distracted -- you just have to have that discipline to ensure you remain focused and productive,” Auten said.



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Reader comments

Wed, Dec 7, 2011

Besides the points already made, how many 8-hour a day employees are actually WORKING for 8 hours? Sure they are AT WORK for 8 hours, but how much of that is chatting, getting coffee, reading a news website, going to the bathroom, etc. All normal things. I think most people (not just teleworkers) do 4-6 hours of actual WORK each day. That said, I would think most halfway intelligent teleworkers would make extra sure that their productivity stayed up if they want to keep their telework eligibility. So maybe they're not tied to their home office 8 straight hours, but they're doing 4-6 hours of great work.

Fri, Sep 30, 2011 Paul Tracy Washington, DC

I have worked for the private sector, the military as a soldier, and now the government. the most amazing observation I have made that seems to escape most studies on productivity of workers is that the person doing the study does not consider the entire spectrum. Telework, don't Tele work. Spend 8:00 hrs to the minute or not. Be productive or not. It does not matter in which environment your work. You will find those that put in extra effort, those that do their job and nothing more, those that are somewhat less productive, and finally those theat spend their days on the telephone, or doing anything but work. In short, those who do the job at the work place without supervision will do the same when they telework. Personally, I seem to accomplish more when I telework because there are less distractions than in the workplace. How about you?

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 LeoNOVA

This seems a bit nonsensical. I can see the slacking working for a day or a few weeks, but over time the lack of productivity becomes obvious. If you are on a project-oriented position, are you getting the project done? If so, then who cares where you get it done? If the project is being delayed, then the manager has to step in. Finally, how are pets a distraction?

Mon, Sep 26, 2011 Salem

I think you are looking at this from an invalid point of view: results count, not not the number of hours a person works to accomplish them. If someone can produce the results you want in a reasonable time, pay them what it's worth and quit worrying about whether they suffered enough/worked the "right number of hours" to get it done. I've worked over 20 years in both private industry and government jobs, and I can tell you that by my observations most people (in the office) work less than 5 or 6 hours in an 8 hour day (unless you consider socializing with co-workers part of the job, which I suppose it is to some degree). Why do the managers feel they got their money's worth just because someone came to the office? If someone is producing the same results working an hour a day at home as they produced by being in the office 8 hours a day, what difference does it make to the bottom line? If they aren't producing enough, do something about it; otherwise, quit nit-picking.

Mon, Sep 26, 2011 MM Scott AFB, IL

One thing that was not mentioned in the article is the over time. It's far too easy to claim over time when there's no accountability. I know of an instance where an employee logged more than 100 hours spanning four pay period. The reason was "In support of the Wing Mission." The sad part is that management signed off on it without question. I, as well as others I work with, feel that while working from home you should be exempt from aquiring over time. Telework is a priviledge and not something that comes with over time as it would if working from the office.

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