Teleworkers: Slackers or ethical?

A confluence of events — congested roads, exorbitant real estate prices and steep gas costs — have all buoyed the telework movement and spurred interest in flexible work arrangements in the government and private sector.

Therefore, the timing of a CareerBuilder report in which 17 percent of respondents admit to working an hour or less per day when teleworking is all the more unfortunate. Although it is true that more than one-third of those polled say they put in a full day, the survey lends some credence to managers' worries that teleworking employees take advantage of their reduced visibility to goof off.

However, the survey was confined to private-sector employees. Government employees might have a different attitude.

Other research supports the notion that many employees value the flexibility of telework: GigaOM reported that 12 percent of working men and 6 percent of women would give up more than 10 percent of their salary to telework more often.

And in contrast to the CareerBuilder survey, an article in Bnet suggests that telework could make employees more ethical. A recent survey noted that the number of ethics violations was lower among teleworkers than among in-office employees: 11 percent vs. 36 percent, Bnet’s Dave Johnson wrote.

In an effort to explain the numbers, Johnson suggested that the telework environment might lend itself to fewer opportunities for misconduct. Employees might also be reluctant to do anything that could jeopardize their remote-work privileges, the article states.

However, employers might have a bigger problem on their hands. In recounting a recent webcast by the Telework Exchange, Nextgov's Brittany Ballenstedt noted that many agencies still lack the plans, tools and support necessary to manage teleworkers.

“When grading their agencies on mobile readiness, only 10 percent gave their agency an A, while 31.8 percent graded their agency a B and 36.4 percent gave their agency a C,” she wrote on the "Wired Workplace" blog. “Sixteen percent gave their agency a D, and 6.4 percent graded their agency an F on mobile readiness, according to the results.”

The issue of being unprepared is not exclusive to government agencies, Business Insurance magazine reported. Risk management practices have not kept pace with changes in the workplace, and teleworking employees could face new hazards. As an example, Business Insurance cited the case of a woman who died of a blood clot after sitting at her work computer at home for long periods of time. Her family was recently granted workers’ compensation survivor benefits.

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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Reader comments

Mon, Oct 24, 2011 Morgan

I am a government employee with the working title of Technology Consultant. In that capacity I spend all day on the computer. There is some travel involved. Working from home would be nice. I would prefer to not have to commute to my office. However, I also realize I need the structure of the office. My basement workshop can be a tantalizing seductress. Although I tend to be a loner, I recognize the importance of socialization. Computer Consultants, like me, already spend considerable time alone. It's the nature of the job. I need to be around other people some of the time. For me the ideal situation would be regularly scheduled days at home as a teleworker, punctuated by days at the office. A schedule would be important for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it would provide a time frame for when I am supposed to work; and be available. Secondly, it would give me the right to work only during normally scheduled hours. That is usually not a problem for folks who work in an office on a regular schedule. Computers have made it possible for employers to expect work after hours, weekends, and holidays. Being available only when at the office gives one protection from such unreasonable expectations. People can argue all day that they are disciplined; and that folks like me are not. Truth be told, I would most likely put in more work related hours were I working exclusively from home. As things stand today, I rarely go near a computer when home. When home, I make it a point to not be available. If my home phone rings I ignore it. When it does, my answering machine is a tireless worker. My home is my refuge. That would change if my position were to be reclassified to that of teleworker. I would be expected to answer the phone after hours to deal with work related problems. I would be expected to work odd hours to be compatible with the altered schedules of others. It's a slippery slope once you permit work to invade your personal time. The exception quickly becomes the norm. It can get to the point you are always working no matter your location; or the time of day. Technology can be invasive and unforgiving. It's all about control; internal and external.

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