Editorial: We’ve come a long way

It seems as though we have been talking forever about letting federal employees telework, but it doesn’t seem to be happening.

The Office of Personnel Management reported last year that only 6 percent of federal employees work from home or from a telework center at least once a week, which seems like a paltry number.

But when we take a broader look from where we started, we can see that agencies and companies have actually come a long way. Technology has improved the way we do so many tasks.

We should keep that progress in mind when we ponder the future of telework. We have made great strides toward broadening our notion of workplaces, and we will continue to make progress as technologies improve.

Lawmakers, led by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), have imposed requirements on agencies to allow a percentage of their employees to telework. The omnibus spending bill Congress approved last year withholds $5 million from a number of agencies until each ensures that all of their eligible workers are permitted to telework. Such formal requirements seem counterproductive.

In theory, we support telework. It makes sense for a number of reasons. For instance, it allows agencies to attract better workers, which the government wants and needs. It reduces commuting time. And, as Wolf has noted, teleworkers are often more productive.

An effective telework plan can also support an agency’s continuity-of-operations plan. Typically, such plans allow people to work outside the office when necessary because of bad weather or an emergency.

Employees at some government organizations, such as the Census Bureau, are already teleworking when it makes sense for them to do so.

But telework is not for everybody. Some people prefer working in an office environment, and others have jobs that require collaboration that cannot occur as effectively in an electronic environment as it can in person.

Telework is important, but mandating it doesn’t make sense. Agencies will eventually have telework plans in place, but that will happen through evolution.

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