In early November 2007, the House Subcommittee on FederalWorkforce,
Postal Service, and the District of Columbia held a hearing on how
break new ground in telework.Telework Exchange, among other
testified on why the federal government is not further along in its
adoption.Although resistance still remains, the workforce dynamics
rapidly shifting, and the government must adapt.
Telework is transforming the work environmentpropelling business
continuity and pandemic planning, recruitment and retention, and
savingsto the benefit of government agencies, employees, and
the green movement takes hold, telework is not only improving the
lot of employees
and businesses, but providing a breath of fresh air for the
Why Care about Telework?
The federal workforce spends $20 billion a year on
commuting. If we extrapolate that figure to the U.S. white
collar workforce,America spends $572 billion per year on
commuting,much more than the gross domestic product of
the Republic of Ireland.According toTelework Exchange
data,Americans burn 26 billion gallons of gas by commuting
each yearor 62 percent of the U.S. Strategic Petroleum
The average commuting federal worker pumps 8 tons
of pollutants per year into the environment,or 14.4 million
tons across government. If all eligible federal workers teleworked
two days per week, we could eliminate one-quarter
of these emissions.Time and Productivity
The average federal worker spends 245 hours commuting
each yearmore time than on vacation. If all eligible
workers teleworked just two days per week,the federal
workforce would reclaim 73.3 million hours of their lives
each year.Thats the equivalent of an additional week of
personal time for every federal employee each year.
As we approach flu season, pandemic planning is at
the forefront.The presidents pandemic plan calls out
telework as a central plank in preparedness.The U.S.Office
of Personnel Managements (OPMs) Human Capital
Planning for Pandemic Influenza states,Telework allows
the federal government to remain responsive to the nations
needs at all times and should be an integral part of
any agencys plans for continuity of operations. In a
Telework Exchange poll, only 27 percent of federal employees
said they will show up for work in the event of
a pandemic (Figure 1). Just 21 percent said they are aware
of their agencys pandemic plans, and of those, only 27
percent noted that their agency incorporates telework
into continuity-of-operations (COOP) plans.Who will
attend to America if Uncle Sam calls in sick?
Given these statistics,why are federal telework roadways
rife with obstacles?
No consistent telework framework or eligibility criteria
exist for employees.OPM reports only 10 percent
of eligible workers telework today, but a recent study
shows that 79 percent would telework if given the option.
These numbers dont make sense.
In fact, OPM needs to take a telework leadership
rolelike helping to establish a telework-friendly seal of
approval for telework positions on USAJobs.gov. This
would allow agencies to identify new jobs as teleworkfriendly
to make the jobs more attractive.We proposed
this program to OPM almost two years ago, and we are
still waiting for an answer.At consecutive congressional
hearings,members have asked OPM about its success in
getting managers to buy in to telework as a standard operating
procedure at their agencies.At each hearing,OPM
has the same answerno quantifiable data.Why not?
OPM needs to get the data and provide the leadership.
That said,Telework Exchange will independently
launch a government telework-friendly job bank on our
Web site in 2008.Agencies will be able to post teleworkfriendly
job positions on www.teleworkexchange.com.
The site will empowerAmericans to search for teleworkfriendly
Management resistance is still the major impeder.
Regrettably, in too many places in government, its still
management by walking around.That said,managers become
more favorable to the telework idea as they manage
teleworkers or telework themselves.The problem is
that too few managers are teleworking.
Poor Mission Alignment
Just 35 percent of federal managers say that their
agencies support telework. If telework is critical to
COOP and agency leaders are committed to Homeland
Security Presidential Directive 20, then clearly something
is getting lost in translation.Lack of Resources
Agencies do not dedicate sufficient time and resources
to telework.The majority of telework coordinators
spend 25 percent or less of their time on telework.
Telework is not completely gridlocked, but traffic is
clearly moving too slowly.Examples of agencies that took
the right road with their telework programs include the
Defense Information SystemsAgency; Internal Revenue
ServiceWide Shared Services Virtual Office Program;
Pacific Region,San Francisco International Field Office;
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation;Treasury
Inspector General forTaxAdministration; and U.S.Patent
andTrademark Office.The General ServicesAdministration
recently announced an aggressive telework commitment
goal to expand telework to 50 percent of eligible
employees by 2010.
In addition, Capitol Hill has shown overwhelming
support with the Senates introduction of S.1000, the
Telework Amendment included in H.R. 3221, a proposal
for a NationalTeleworkWeek, and most recently
the introduction of the Telework ImprovementsAct of
2007 in H.R. 4106. But even with the fuel-promoting
adoption, only a few agencies are filling up.The question
Lack of a federal mandate means that many agencies
are not even considering telework options.Agencies
must begin telework programs with a specific mission,
need, or pilot. However, until telework has strong legislative
support, agencies will fail to take the new road.
Beyond policy, telework requires personnel, technology,
culture, and training commitments to reap its myriad
benefits. Like any program with a return on investment,
there are initial costs associated with development.
What Can We Do?
Benjamin Franklin said,The definition of insanity
is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different
results.We need to innovate to realize tangible
progress, such as doing the following:
Address eligibility. Offer telework as an opt-out,
rather than an opt-in. Require justification from
managers on ineligibility.
Address management resistance. Educate managers and
encourage management-specific pilot programs.
Test drive COOP.Telework is not an antidote to be
used in case of emergency.Agencies need to commit
to telework up front and embrace it as a part
of their standard operating procedure.
Allocate resources.One full-time, senior-level telework
coordinator per agency is critical.Agencies should
develop a telework team that includes employees
charged with handling their agencys COOP planning
and information technology support.
Clearly, government telework adoption has much
room for improvement. Organizations must consider
telework a standard operating procedure as well as a shift
toward a nationwide distributed workforce. Now is the
time to put telework into drive.