Welles: Telework coming alive?

With new guidelines and surveys showing more interest, has telework’s time come?

Whenever I write about telework, I worry about beating a dead horse, giving too much attention to something that is not going very far. But new guidelines from the General Services Administration and several new reports suggest that conditions are getting better for telework.

A new study conducted by research firm Sperling’s BestPlaces (www.bestplaces.net) and sponsored by Intel ranked Washington, D.C., as the best U.S. city for teleworking out of 80 contenders. The study ranks cities that hold the greatest potential for teleworking based on factors such as commuting times, fuel prices, availability of broadband Internet access and percentage of the population in telework-friendly jobs.

Although the study does not mention continuity-of-operations planning, it is certainly a factor as government agencies consider the possibility of a bird flu pandemic or terrorist attack. So agencies should consider some of the best practices reported from those that have adopted telework for federal employees.

CDW Government’s second annual Federal Telework Survey, based on interviews with 542 federal employees and an online survey of 235 federal information technology professionals, shows an increase in employees who telework. Of the federal employees who responded, 41 percent telework, up from 19 percent of the same group surveyed last year. Federal IT professionals are also providing technical support for more telework initiatives than they did last year. Those trends mirror the increase in telework reported in the Office of Personnel Management’s most recent survey.

For many of the federal IT professionals who participated in the CDW-G survey, information security is the primary challenge associated with telework. But 39 percent believe that telework poses no conflict with Federal Information Security Management Act compliance. Clearly, education and discussion, if not more technology, are necessary to address the concern. Antivirus software (66 percent), network security hardware (61 percent) and authentication/public-key infrastructure/encryption technologies (50 percent) are the primary security solutions for teleworkers, according to the survey.

The Telework Coalition surveyed employers at 10 large companies, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration and the Fairfax County government. Seeking best practices, the coalition determined that successful programs link telework to savings at the business unit level and obtain union support and involvement from the outset rather than imposing a top-down initiative. Organizations that reduced their facilities and space saved $3,000 to $10,000 per employee.

Technology common to nearly all of the organizations included laptop computers, virtual private networks for secure remote access and extended and often contracted help-desk support. Some large companies are also using voice-over-IP technology to make calls via the Internet. The study, sponsored by Intel for the coalition, can be found at www.telcoa.org .

For telework to thrive, more managers need to let employees test the waters.

Welles is a retired federal employee who has worked in the public and private sectors. She lives in Bethesda, Md., and writes about work life topics for Federal Computer Week. She can be reached at judywelles@fcw.com.

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