Feds stay home in droves for Telework Week

Results show increased productivity, savings and reduced environmental impact, group says

This story was updated at 9:25 a.m., April 1, to correct a statistic on the estimated amount of pollutants saved during Telework Week.

If anyone is unaware that federal employees are interested in teleworking, the results of last month’s National Telework Week might get the point across.

A total of 39,694 people participated in the program by working from home at least two days during the week of Feb. 14, and 86 percent of them were feds, according to the National Telework Exchange.

Telework Week was an effort to encourage teleworking in government and private-sector organizations, and to showcase the quality of living, economic and ecological benefits of skipping the regular commute to the office. The results were shared Tuesday in a Webcast for reporters.

Managers and employees surveyed after the event reported increased productivity from employees working from home, said Cindy Auten, general manager of the Telework Exchange. “That’s become one of the key drivers,” she said.


Related coverage:

Telework on the sly: How many feds really work outside the office?

Federal telework to-do list


The Telework Exchange estimated, based on an average round-trip daily commute of 50 miles, that two days of teleworking a week amounts to a savings of $3,439 a year. Dan Kent, CTO at Cisco federal, a supporter of the exchange’s efforts, said that Cisco has found that its employees who telework end up spending about 60 percent of the time they save by not commuting on their work.

But despite the apparent benefits for both employer and employee, adoption of telework is not always easy, Kent said.

“It’s a culture change,” he said. Managers have to have metrics for measuring performance of workers who are not in the office every day. And security is an issue, although it need not be a deal breaker, Kent said. “The technology is there to ensure that teleworking is secure.”

Thin clients for home use are less expensive than full-featured PCs, and virtual desktops and applications can improve security by keeping data inside the data center, putting only an image on the desktop.

It has long been federal policy to promote telework, and Congress bolstered the policy last year with legislation.

The Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 requires agencies to establish policies and designate telework managing officers, and calls for the Office of Personnel Management to develop regulations for implementing telework policies, as well as guidelines for IT acquisition that would support telework. The Office of Management and Budge,t together with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, will establish security guidelines for remote workers. By June 9, all federal employees will be notified of their eligibility for telework under the new policies.

The General Services Administration is the lead agency for enabling government telework and is a leader in putting the concept into practice. Eighty-five percent of GSA employees have been identified as eligible for telework, according to GSA Administrator Martha Johnson, and 42 percent now work outside the office at least two days every pay period.

According to the Telework Exchange, 2,864 GSA employees agreed to participate in Telework Week. Throughout the federal government, 34,131 employees took part by teleworking at least two days that week. The Washington metro area had the highest number of participants in the effort, with 29,353 workers, although the percentage of federal employees in that number was not broken out.

Based on a survey conducted after the week, 44 percent of the federal employees participating already teleworked at least once a week and 22 percent said they teleworked on an ad-hoc basis. Ten percent of the participants said they were first-time teleworkers.

Based on an average daily commute of 50 miles, with cost factors including the price of gasoline, the cost of operating an automobile, the Telework Exchange estimated that participants in the one-week effort avoided driving 3.2 million miles, saved themselves 126,752 hours on the road, avoided 1,500 tons of pollutants and saved $2.3 million in commuting costs.

It estimated that if all eligible federal workers telecommuted two days a week, they would avoid driving 5.5 billion miles and save $3.8 billion in commuting costs over the course of a year.

Recommendations from participants about the technology needed to enable teleworking included:

  • “Continue to improve the IT infrastructure to ensure maximum efficiency of all systems and applications.”
  • “Offer more training on higher level collaboration and IT tools; not just the basic stuff.”
  • “Improve the use of an electronic file system so that all hard copies are available from anywhere.”

 

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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