Telework unlocks workplace flexibility, union leader says

Colleen Kelley takes her message straight to the top: the White House

An expanded telework program is one of the best ways to bring real flexibility to the federal workplace, Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), said during a White House forum to examine the state of flexible work arrangements.

Kelley spoke at the March 31 White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility, hosted by President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, which examined ways that the government might help American workers juggle the twin demands of work and family.

Telework “allows employees to avoid long, expensive and tiresome commutes, enables them to better balance work and family life and increases job satisfaction,” Kelley said, noting that NTEU negotiates for flexibilities in every bargaining unit. Often, she said, there is real resistance among managers to implementing flexibilities.

“Behavior needs to be modeled and supported by the heads of the agencies and all layers of management,” Kelley added.

A report released the same day by the president’s Council of Economic Advisers looked at flexible workplace policies from an economic perspective and noted that at least half of all jobs in America could be served by some sort of telecommuting arrangement.

The report said that while many jobs—such as teacher, sales clerk, law officer and assembly-line worker—require an individual to be physically present at the worksite, a substantial share of the work performed by other kinds of workers could, in principle, be performed from home or a satellite office.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Federal Workforce Subcommittee recently approved a bill (H.R. 1722) that would expand telework opportunities for greater numbers of federal employees by ensuring that all those eligible for telework could do so for at least 20 of the hours they work every two-week period.

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