USDA points to telework's bottom-line benefits

While security concerns still bedevil telework, agencies are beginning to meet the challenge with results to show for it.

teleworker at laundromat

The ability to work from home, or another location, is something many federal employees value. (Stock image)

Plenty of agencies are boosting their efficiency through telework, as a newly-released study makes clear. The Agriculture Department is starting to see actual dollar savings, providing a concrete example of the value of allowing employees to work from home.

USDA’s telework polices will save the agency some $8 million just in transportation subsidies to employees in fiscal year 2013, and the agency has set a goal, which agency officials describe as “aggressive,” of having 55 percent of its eligible workforce log telework time over the coming year – much more than the federal agency average.

“Consistency and policy implementation have been challenges for quite some time in figuring out how to leverage mobility and mobile work for the federal workforce,” said Mika Cross, work/life and wellness program manager for the USDA’s Office for Human Resource Management.

“The naysayers like to say that you’re not saving money, you’re just avoiding costs, but those are steps we want to take,” she said. “Eventually, I think we’ll get to a place where the government can standardize a way to calculate return on investment and savings on utilities through telework.”

Following the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act and then USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s “Cultural Transformation” initiative that pushed for a mobile, efficient workforce, Cross said USDA has updated its decade-old telework policies, saving money and increasing telework opportunities for staff. The changes also contributed to a five-point boost in employee approval in the Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Employee Viewpoint survey results, she said.

Those results mirror the Telework Exchange’s recent study of 300 federal employees surveyed across numerous federal agencies.

That study, called the 2013 Digital Dilemma, indicated that about 75 percent of federal employees use mobile devices for work-related tasks an average of nine hours per week, translating to an estimated $28 billion in annual productivity gains.

It also suggested that the ability to work outside the office is popular among federal employees, with 95 percent reporting access to mobile devices improved their work, and 55 percent reporting they bring their own mobile devices to work.

But security remains a hurdle as agencies look to a more mobile workforce, with the report claiming that one-third of employees who use personal smartphones and tablets for work-related activities do not have password protection, increasing odds of data breaches, according to Telework Exchange general manager Cindy Auten.

Yet 80 percent of the feds interviewed in the survey claimed to have reviewed written mobile device security information, and 74 percent said they’d participated in mobile device security training in the past 12 months, indicating they are receiving training but perhaps not forced to adhere to it.

From the federal perspective, telework’s evolution continues, much like the technology that enables it.

“It’s a challenge, but we’re improving,” Cross said.

NEXT STORY: The coming mobile explosion

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