Telework group logs on

Emphasizing the benefits to both employers and employees when people work from home, a software consortium made up of government and private organizations launched a new group Thursday that will evaluate the best ways to make teleworking a reality.

The Software Productivity Consortium — whose government affiliates include NASA, several Defense Department agencies and the Federal Aviation Administration — spelled out the goals of its new Telework Consortium at a kickoff meeting held at its Herndon, Va., headquarters.

The Telework Consortium will develop and test telework best practices and share them with companies and agencies and will work to encourage reluctant employers to embrace the concept. The consortium will create a Telework Center to showcase and test technologies for effective teleworking, and it will provide performance data, training and other tools to its members.

Many employers fear that having employees work from home will be costly, result in less worker productivity and prevent personal contact that people enjoy, consortium officials said at the meeting. However, organizations can actually save money — through lower real estate costs, for example — and workers can be just as productive collaborating remotely, using the right technology, they said. Worker morale and retention also increases, according to the group.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) has championed teleworking for another, more obvious reason: Less traffic. Speaking at last week's meeting, he said that getting even a small number of people off the roads can have a major impact on traffic congestion. Studies have shown that with just 1 percent fewer automobiles on the road, congestion decreases by 3 percent, and with 3 percent fewer cars, congestion drops by 10 percent.

Teleworking also spreads workers out geographically, which makes resources more secure than when they are concentrated in one location, said William Mularie, former director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Information Systems Office. That fact was made clear by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Indeed, after House office buildings were recently closed because of the threat of anthrax, Wolf said his staff members were able to work off-site without any hitches.

"My staff never missed a beat," he said.

Werner Schaer, president of the Software Productivity Consortium, said providing ultra-high bandwidth capable of transmitting high-quality video is crucial to expanding the practice of teleworking. Reliable video connections will provide the "virtual presence" necessary to make teleworkers feel they are working closely with their colleagues, he said.

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