Fed telework on the rise but still falls short

"The Status of Telework in the Federal Government 2005"

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Concerted efforts to increase teleworking governmentwide paid off in 2004 in a 37 percent increase in the number of federal employees working one or more days a week from home or from federal telework centers near their homes.

But by other measures, federal telework statistics fell short of official expectations. According to a new federal telework survey, about 40 percent of federal employees were eligible for telework in 2004, but only 18.6 percent of them took advantage of it.

The Office of Personnel Management’s 2005 survey report shows, however, that expanded marketing efforts contributed to significant increases in telework. To promote telework, OPM and the General Services Administration created a telework Web site, held Webinars, visited agencies and made presentations at conferences. Those efforts apparently were successful. In 2004, 140,694 out of 1.8 million federal employees were teleworkers.

Half of those teleworkers routinely worked from home or a nearby telework center an average of six days a month. The other half did so only on a limited basis — typically three days a month — during an extended illness or family crisis.

Agencies reported using a combination of low- and high-tech arrangements for monitoring the work of their offsite employees. A telework contract served as a monitoring mechanism in 70 percent of the agencies surveyed, but 40 percent of the agencies said they used electronic tracking systems.

The Labor Department reported 50 percent, or 7,845, of its eligible employees actually did perform telework in 2004. The Commerce Department reported 39 percent, or 9,627, of its eligible employees engaged in telework in 2004.

The main reason for the still-sizeable gap between the number of eligible and actual teleworkers is the difficulty of providing adequate office coverage when large numbers of employees are working away from the office, officials said in their survey responses.

Federal law requires agencies to participate in telecommuting to the maximum extent possible without hurting employees' job performance.

OPM reported a 95 percent survey response rate; 82 of 86 agencies that received the survey responded.

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