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Of Trees and Teleworking

In the past couple of weeks, the DC metro area was wracked by massive storms that compounded commuting woes (and split an apartment building in half). My commuting time more than doubled. Muchmaligned power company Pepco featured two Flickr feeds documenting the storm damage and indirectly making a strong case for teleworking. In the days of VPN, it’s easier than ever to work from home.

Thankfully, my workplace encourages teleworking, so at least once a week, I can skip the commute altogether and get right to work. I have found that on teleworking days, I start work around the same time as I would normally start my commute, which means I eke out an extra half hour of work time in the same number of hours. I’m not alone in noting that I’m more productive on days I telework.

There are many advantages to teleworking, for employers, employees, and the greater community. But people who would like to participate in teleworking programs sometimes face stiff barriers.

Telework.gov: detailing benefits and barriers

The Web site Telework.gov holds itself out as “the official website of the Federal Government’s telework program.” On the Telework Testimony page, the most recent entry is from 2007. There are only five entries on the blog, all posted on January 4, 2010, the first at 12:00 PM, the last at 12:04 PM. All of the pages’ comments sections were closed in the same month.

The site, run by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), pulls its content from both OPM and the General Services Administration (GSA). It houses, among other documents, the last eight years’ reports to congress on the state of federal teleworking. The most recent is the 2009 report which, of course, details the state of teleworking in 2008. In that year, according to the report:

  • 78 agencies reported a total of 102,900 out of 1,962,975 employees teleworking -5.24% of the total population reported as teleworkers -8.67% of the eligible population reported as teleworkers
  • 27 agencies reported cost savings/benefits as a result of telework; of these, the greatest benefit was to morale (24 agencies), then productivity/performance and transportation (22 each), then human capital (21) (note: agencies could select all that apply).
  • In terms of major barriers to telework, office coverage was highest (48 agencies), followed by management resistance (38), organizational culture (36), and IT security and IT funding (both at 25) (note: agencies could select all that apply).
  • To overcome these barriers, 42 agencies are offering training for managers, 35 are offering training for employees, 29 have increased marketing, and 21 have established or increased budget for IT expenditures (note: agencies could select all that apply).

Comparisons to Prior Year

  • Overall number of teleworkers increased from 94,643 in 2007 to 102,900 in 2008 (8,257 more teleworkers, an increase of 8.72%)
  • Number of eligible employees decreased from 1,242,104 to 1,187,244
  • Percent of eligibles teleworking increased from 7.62% to 8.67%
  • Percent of total employees teleworking increased from 5.12% to 5.24%

There is also guidance and legislation helpful for feds who want to participate in teleworking programs.

The comments on the site’s blog entries detail many of the barriers to teleworking that employees face. In general, they comport with what the OPM details, though the frequency is different. By my reading of the coments on multiple blog entries, the barrier mentioned most often is management resistance (either passive or active), with IT considerations coming in second, and office coverage/office culture mentioned third.

Telework Exchange: calculate your savings, find resources

Another site, called Telework Exchange, supports federal employees (and their nongovernment counterparts) who are allowed to telework, and it calculates the savings they accrue, both in terms of environmental and economic impact. The site calculates that their community of roughly 15,000 members saves a collective $19.5 million and removes 14,470.5 tons of pollutants per year. When I put in my informaiton (driving a sedan about 9 miles to work, teleworking 2 days a week), I learn that I save:

  • $711 – Total amount saved by teleworking in a year
  • 945 – Number of pounds of pollutants saved by teleworking in a year
  • 0.4725 – Number of tons of pollutants saved by teleworking in a year

and I cost:

  • $1,067 – Total amount spent commuting to and from work in a year
  • 1417.5 – Number of pounds of pollutants dispersed by your car in a year
  • 0.70875 – Number of tons of pollutants dispersed by your car in a year

Telework exchange also hosts a resource center for employees who are interetsed in teleworking, as well as managers who want to know the ins and outs of managing employees remotely. The site caters not only to federal employees, but also to state and local government employees. One of the reports they offer details the experience of “Telework Day” in Virginia.

Given the benefits of teleworking, and the advancing technology that is helping to make it easier both for employees and managers, the trend toward greater availability of teleworking options is likely to continue.

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Jay S. Daughtry, ChatterBachs

Interesting statistics. It shouldn’t take storms to make us realize the value of teleworking. Office coverage is any interesting excuse… how many people does that take? If you have a meeting, you’d need to be there anyway. If you don’t, phones can be forwarded.

Tom Bullington

Readers of this blog may be interested in the recent issue of Inc. magazine, which was completed entirely by telework (the reporting, writing and editing, that is). By all accounts, the experiment was successful. Staff members said while they missed some of the in-person interaction of an office setting, they were more productive and better able to concentrate than when working in the midst of others’ phone conversations, etc.

I wonder what the public reaction would be to a massive telework initiative by govt. agencies. What if the majority of them worked from home once or twice each week? Would this be applauded by the media and constituents as a cost-saving measure, or would less-than-enlightened critics contend that govt. employees were “taking it easy” at home once per week at taxpayer expense?