Telework remains out of reach for many feds, survey shows

Less than 10 percent of feds surveyed say they telework once per week

Despite a push from the Barack Obama administration to increase the number of federal employees that telework, those workers aren’t any happier with their agencies’ telework programs than they were in previous years, according to the results of a government survey released today.

About 35 percent of 172,843 federal employees said they were “very satisfied” or “satisfied” when asked to rate their agencies’ telework programs, according to results from the Office of Management and Budget’s 2010 Federal Employee Viewpoint survey. That is down 39.9 percent from 2008 and 38.6 percent from 2006.

Nearly 23 percent of those employees said they were “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied,” while almost 42 percent responded that they were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with their agencies’ approach to telework. The percentages are based on findings from the surveys that have been weighted, or adjusted to represent the population from which the sample was taken, OPM said. The adjustments don't change a respondent's answer, but rather gives it the appropriate relative importance, OPM said.

Officials in the Obama and the George W. Bush administrations tried to expand the number of federal workers that telework, particularly in the Washington metropolitan area. Advocates for more federal teleworkers say the expansion would mean less traffic and air pollution, and more government readiness to continue working after a terrorist attack or natural disaster.

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In April 2009, the Obama administration advised agencies to increase federal teleworking opportunities by standardizing their policies, appointing telework managing officers and creating appeals processes for employees whose requests to telecommute are denied.

Less than 10 percent of the 247,268 feds who described their current teleworking situation said they telework at least one day per week. Twenty-three percent of those respondents said they didn’t telework because they weren’t allowed to, despite having jobs amenable to teleworking.

The survey is performed every two years and was administered to full-time, permanent employees of federal departments and agencies. Overall, of the 504,609 employees receiving surveys, 263,475 completed it, OPM said.

In a separate development, the House leadership is planning to debate a bill Wednesday that is designed to expand federal telework. In May, the House failed to pass the bill when it came up for a vote under suspension of the rules, which requires a two-thirds majority for approval. The Senate passed a similar measure.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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Reader comments

Mon, Jul 19, 2010

I am totally against telecommuting unless the manager is fully responsible to getting the work done. I am constantly trying to determine who is "in" and who is "home working" and asked to make accommodations on how to reach them. Everyone was told they should check their voice messages in their offices no less than every two hours. Yet, I do not get return calls from employees who are telecommuting when I leave a voice message at their work office phone. And the quality and workload of our groups' performance continutes to wane, especially as more telecommute days are allowed. I'm in favor of telecommuting if the employee proves himself to be trustworthy to "work 8 hours". My team leader leaves during his 8 hour telecommute to pick up his child from school. The tolerance for unacceptable performance is the biggest frustration. And when my performance is impacted by another's lack of performance, I DON'T LIKE IT.

Fri, Jul 16, 2010 USDA FS

I think managers' reluctance to allow workers to telework is about job definitions/expectations and communication differences. I worked in the military for 20 years, and now in Federal service. Wow is there a difference! Someone else mentioned becoming Mission oriented. That is something federal service is missing.
In the military, I often took work home. It wasn't telework, it was knowing what needed to get done and doing what it took to accomplish mission. Sometimes I worked long hours, sometimes it was slow and I could take a few early days. But I knew what my job was. It had defined requirements and expectations. Rarely was I directly supervised as the quality and quantity of work out of my desk was above expectations, and as a result of getting my work done expeditiously, I had opportunities to participate in larger projects, gain more responsibility and experience, and get satisfaction from my job.
Now I'm in the federal service. When I came to work, I asked what my job is. There was no clear cut definition, no stated expectations, little to no training, and the only limitations are that I stay in my place, not interfere with anyone else’s rice bowl, not ask too many questions or try to learn too much (because then I wouldn't be staying in my place or leaving rice bowls alone), and sit at this computer for 80 hours each week, regardless of the amount of work I have accomplished.
But if there is no clear definition of job requirements and expectations, a manager may be afraid that a worker is at home playing with their kids, instead of spending 8 hours on a 3 hour task. Some employees take 8 hours to do a 6 hour job, others take 3. But since we're not mission oriented, there's no motivation to be efficient, so why not have a cup of coffee and chit-chat for another 30 minutes. So I think those issues are one reason managers are resistant to telework.
Another is the new connectedness. GenY are very into being electronically connected to other people, and working as a team over great distances with all these technology gadgets. Others like myself are not as comfortable texting someone as a professional method of communication, even though it may be quite adequate to accomplish the project or mission.
I don't think federal employees are lazy. From my experience, many want to accomplish an expected amount of satisfying work in an efficient manner without having road-blocks and red-tape thrown up in their face at every turn. Most who aren't already jaded and frustrated into lethargy, really want to do a good job. You can't really give bonuses; most folks want to do things the most efficient way possible so that perhaps they can have a little more time for those things that are important to them (like family) instead of what is important to their boss (sitting at a desk for 8 hours).

Wed, Jul 14, 2010

Wow, same here. Pretence that telework is being embraced but truth is that upper managerment is delaying the decsision to let employees telework on specific days because they prefer interacting in person.

Tue, Jul 13, 2010 Taylor Texas

I work for EPA and we have the same situation as GSA. Management is told from high levels to embrace teleworking, but middle management like my division director do everything to deny it while trying to saying they encourage it. I have a job that is very conducive to work at home and even have better computer equipment there. And when I applied to telework 1 day a week, my manager didn't say I couldn't telework, but she made it clear she was not approving it and I'd have to struggle to get it and it would make her unhappy. So I didn't push the matter. But to look good, my management has had us all approved for episodic telework which means when and if they ever need us to work at home (e.g., disaster), that we can. That has never happened in the 4 years since I applied and I don't expect it to. They still tout that I am a teleworker because I am on the telework list. But I do not telework. Lower and Middle Management just do not trust employees and some have cause to do so, but most do not. Until these lower and mid level managers can learn to evaluate job performance by results instead of location, it just isn't going to work.

Tue, Jul 13, 2010

I work for GSA and I get the impression that management officials want to appear as though they are willing to support Telework but that their hearts are not really behind it. I was teleworking three days a week (successfully I might add) but, for no apparent reason, the Office of Government-wide Policy who is supposed to be advocating it changed its internal policy by limiting telework participation to one day a week. Hopefully, we recently have had some major changes in upper management that will take the President's initiative seriously and come up with a more favorable approach and implemention plan to encourage employees to telework. Needless to say, I am tired of my 3 or 4 hour commute to work. Life is too short.

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