The growing popularity of teleworking is giving rise to questions that had not been considered at any length before.
Federal employees who telework in a home office often pay for their own network connectivity, a monthly expense that could be viewed as a subsidy to their departments, speakers said at a Telework Exchange Town Hall meeting on May 2.
From the agency point of view, home office connectivity is a free service, said Peter Tseronis, chief technology officer for the Energy Department, who led a session on mobility. Now that teleworking is becoming more popular, there likely will be more discussion about such questions, he suggested.
“If I telework at home, who pays for my Internet Service Provider?” Tseronis said. “We need to start talking about issues like that.”
At the Marine Corps Recruiting Command, about 4,000 recruiters have been issued government-owned mobile devices, including tablet computers, allowing them to work primarily in their homes.
The recruiters arrange and pay for their own home Internet networks that they use for work, said Robert Brown, assistant chief of staff.
“We do not force folks to telework. But if they do, they sign an agreement that they will have network connectivity at home,” Brown said. “It has not been a problem.”
For a few specialized workers who require more bandwidth and other special features in their Internet service, the recruiting command provides them with a subsidy, he added.
Many other federal agencies have similar arrangements. Cindy Auten, Telework Exchange general manager, suggested that many teleworkers are happy to pay for home connectivity because of the many benefits of telecommuting. “We’ve seen that teleworkers are often open to sharing the cost of connectivity in exchange for the flexibility of being able to work anytime and from anywhere," Auten said.
At the same time, a significant number of agencies are supporting home Internet for teleworkers, either partially or fully. A recent survey by the exchange showed that while 64 percent of federal agencies do not subsidize home Internet for teleworkers, 35 percent do offer such subsidies to some extent.
Nonetheless, other speakers and audience members at the town hall suggested there could be gray areas about such arrangements: Is it fair to ask workers to subsidize the costs of their own connectivity for their jobs? What if Internet goes down at home and the employee is unable to work?
“If I am without Internet at home when I am supposed to be teleworking, what is the impact on me? What if something like that should happen?” an audience member asked in a question-and-answer session at the town hall meeting.
Casey Coleman, chief information officer for the General Services Administration, said one of the advantages of teleworking is flexibility, so that if a worker is without Internet at home, coming into the office that day would be a solution, she suggested.
At the GSA’s new headquarters, where there will be 2,000 seats for 4,000 people, employees will be expected to book arrangements for shared office space. The workers will have a choice of open space in a large room with other workers, or behind closed doors in a private office. The private offices are intended for those who require more concentration and quiet for certain types of work, Coleman said.