Telework Week report highlights upside
- By Frank Konkel
- Apr 30, 2013
The 112,000 federal employees who participated in this year's event during the week of March 4 were "equal if not more productive" while working remotely than when in the office, according to the organization that runs the event. (Stock image)
The Mobile Work Exchange's post-Telework Week study suggests the 112,000 federal employees who participated in this year's event during the week of March 4 were "equal if not more productive" while working remotely than when in the office.
Forty-eight percent of managers surveyed by the Mobile Work Exchange, with assistance from Cisco Systems and Citrix, reported teleworkers from over 200 federal agencies were equally as productive, and 52 percent said their teleworking employees were more productive, with none reporting drops in productivity.
Teleworkers themselves rated their teleworking productivity even higher, with 75 percent claiming increased productivity while working from the friendly confines of their homes or coffee shops.
Rating productivity is just one of several ways to measure the effectiveness of telework initiatives in the public sector, said Mobile Work Exchange General Manager Cindy Auten, but it's a pretty good barometer for gauging how telework is received at the employee and management levels.
"Telework Week, and the study we do afterwards, gives us a glimpse at how agencies are faring in telework," Auten said. "We've seen a lot of progress in the past couple years, but we still have a ways to go."
Telework Week, now an annual event, was first conceived in 2011 with a modest 39,000 pledges, and followed in 2012 with about 71,000 pledges.
This year's Telework Week coincided with a March snowstorm and big news on the telecommuting front: that Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer planned to ban telework for the internet giant's employees. Both incidents contributed to 136,000 total participants this year, 80 percent of whom were feds.
Yet Auten said the biggest reason for growth in Telework Week – especially on the federal sector side of things – is that agencies are beginning to find value in it.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, for example, went from no teleworkers participating in the program to more than half of their 5,000 eligible employee workforce logging telework hours.
Auten also praised the Department of Agriculture, which has a "strong" telework program, and the Department of Health and Human Services, which notched 10,000 teleworkers at Telework Week this year.
Some agencies, like the Patent and Trademark Office, are ahead of the rest of the public sector with advanced metrics in place for measuring the mobile productivity of their employees, Auten said.
Many old-school managers struggle to measure how effective their employees are without face time, often relying on attendance over work output. In an ever-changing workforce where talent wants the option to telework – the study says 66 percent of workers will give preference to positions that offer telework, and 16 percent won't consider a job without it – Auten said behind-the-times middle management could curtail agencies' mobility efforts.
"This is what telework will expose – if you have a crack in your management style, if you have a legacy style that grades by what you're seeing when you're walking around, that's not going to work in a remote situation," said Auten, noting the Office of Personnel Management offers online courses for feds who want to upgrade their management training.
Overall, Auten said about half of the federal workforce's 2.1 million employees are eligible to telework, meaning the 112,000 feds who teleworked this March represent a small fraction of what's possible across agencies.
Auten said that, in addition to revamped management styles and policy changes to encourage telework where applicable, agencies could steal a page from the private sector's innovative mobile work efforts.
Cisco Systems, for instance, experimented with mobile work pilot programs as far back at 1996, and now 89 percent of its workforce works remotely at least once per week, according to senior manager Kacey Carpenter. Could the government ever hope to match those numbers?
"I'm optimistic," Carpenter said. "There are huge opportunities to really give the government the opportunity to do its job while addressing a lot of those cost expenses. When you look at the government today, federal, state or local, you can identify real dollars, time savings, productivity gains and training."
Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.