Telework centers: An idea whose time has come...and gone?

Is telework still telework if you have to get dressed and drive to an office?

The question arose recently when the General Services Administration announced it was closing more than a dozen telework centers in the Washington, D.C., area. The centers gave federal employees access to office amenities close to home without requiring them to commute to agency offices.

The announcement prompted many people to ask: Is that really telework?

“If you have to drive to a telework center, you’re not teleworking,” wrote Paul Cantwell, vice president of federal sales at LifeSize Communications, in a column for FCW.com. "You simply have a different commute."

But it wasn’t just the centers' closure that raised the question. Last year’s major snowstorms kept thousands of people at home, unable to even get to telework centers, said Chuck Wilsker, president and CEO of the Telework Coalition, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., that promotes telecommuting.

“People couldn't leave their homes,” he was quoted as saying in an article in the Southern Maryland News. “That's what got Congress, all of a sudden, to jump on the [working-from-home] bandwagon. They're looking at this for disaster recovery, for snow-related incidents, and if you can't get out of your house, you can't get to a telecommuting center."

The centers made sense when GSA launched the program in 1993, writes Ed O’Keefe in the Washington Post’s "Federal Eye" blog. But now, most employees have smart phones and home computers, making the centers less necessary. GSA reported that only about 300 employees were using the sites, which were costing the government about $13 million a year.

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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