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Did You Telework Today?

Did today’s ice sheet over DC cause you to wish your agency supported teleworking? It’s now encouraged by law, but how do agencies actually get it implemented? The IBM Center has released a new report examining the experiences of four pioneering agencies and what they learned, so you don’t have to!

There are enormous benefits that can result from telework: improved employee retention and reduced sick leave, cost savings from reduced use of office space and utilities, and reduced pollution from commuting. . . . and yes, the ability to work from home when it snows! In fact, a study by the Telework Research Network claims potential savings of about $3.8 billion a year if all eligible federal employees participated. Private industry, including my employer, IBM, has moved aggressively to promote teleworking among their own employees because of these and other benefits.

But the reality has been that only 102,900 federal employees were teleworking in 2008 – a fraction of the 1.2 million who were estimated to be eligible to do so. Why?

In a report for the IBM Center, “Implementing Telework: Lessons Learned from Four Federal Agencies,” Baker College professor Scott Overmyer examines four hurdles: technological, social, operational, and managerial. He then presents case studies of how four cutting-edge federal agencies have addressed these issues and successfully implemented telework in their organizations.

Some of the hurdles these agencies faced have been lowered significantly by the recently-signed Telework Enhancement Act of 2010. This new law creates for the first time a governmentwide framework that requires agencies to determine each employee’s eligibility and execute written agreements with eligible employees outlining their specific work arrangements. It also requires the creation of a telework advocate in each agency, the provision of training to both managers and employees involved, and requires equal treatment of teleworkers and non-teleworkers.

Dr. Overmyer examines the experiences of four early-adopters of telework:

In each case, agency leadership developed different strategies for implementation, but there were many commonalities, such as the need to overcome technical and equipment challenges. However the most common – and most nettlesome – challenge was resistance from managers who were not interested in allowing their employees to participate.

Dr. Overmyer describes how each agency approached the issue of managerial resistance. For example, DISA’s senior leaders embraced telework and championed the practice. This was done via extensive briefings to SES-level managers and subordinates on how to measure and manage performance in a telework environment, with metrics being set for each individual employee. While there was some resistance – “If I can’t see them, how do I know what they’re doing?” – this was largely overcome when DISA found itself able to continue operations in spite of the large snowstorms blanketing the DC area in early 2010. DISA’s Aaron Glover concluded: “Telework is a key enable of the Continuity of Operations (COOP) program.”

Dr. Overmyer includes practical stories of how other agencies overcame their hurdles, as well. So, have your started telework in your agency yet?

Graphic Credit: CommuterPageBlog

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Profile Photo Kate Lister

What’s even more impressive about the potential telework savings cited is that the $3.8 billion in annual savings assumes telecommuters do so just one day every two weeks—far less than the national average of 2.4 days a week.

While 61% of the federal workforce holds a telework-compatible job, less than 8% of those eligible do so on a regular basis. Using assumptions from the same GSA/Booz Allen study mentioned in the study and a more realistic frequency of once a week, our Telework Savings Calculator estimates that that if those eligible federal employees who wanted to work from home did so just one day a week the savings would total over $6 BILLION a year. Based on OPM’s estimated five year cost of $30 million over five years, that’s a 1000 times return on investment.

Agencies would:
– Increase productivity by over $2 billion
– Save over $400 million in real estate and related costs
– Save $1.6 billion in absenteeism and turnover

Federal Employees would:
– Save 2-3 weeks of commuting time
– Save $800-$2,700 in work-related expenses

The Nation would:
– Save $230 million in imported oil
– Reduce greenhouse gases by the equivalent of taking 95,000 cars off the road
– Reduce road congestion thereby increasing productivity for non-teleworkers as well
– Save almost 1,000 people from traffic-related injury or death

The proprietary Telework Savings Calculator has been used by company and community leaders throughout the US and Canada to model the benefits of telework. The Telework Research Network’s research has been cited by the Harvard Business Review, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and scores of other publications.

Kate Lister
Principal Researcher
TeleworkResearchNetwork.com

Profile Photo John Kamensky

Hi Kate – Impressive stats on the benefits of telework! But benefits and stats may not be convincing to agency managers who are reluctant to allow their employees to telework. An interesting approach by some pioneering agencies is to have the reluctant managers do it themselves first.