For a limited time only, free teleworking

For a limited time only, free teleworking

Stephen Perry hopes agencies take GSA up on its offer.

Stephen Perry is making an offer he hopes agencies can't refuse: The General Services Administration will let any federal employee work at one of 15 Washington area telework centers for 60 days at no cost to the worker's agency.

In a recent letter to Office of Personnel Management director Kay Cole James, the GSA administrator said the centers could help agencies meet a federal mandate that requires them by 2004 to offer all federal workers the opportunity to telework.

'It will give more people the opportunity to see the benefits of teleworking at no cost to the agencies,' said Paul Chistolini, deputy commissioner for GSA's Public Buildings Service, which oversees the telework centers. 'We hope that will spur a bigger demand and utilization.'

The centers are well below capacity, somewhere around 56 percent, Chistolini said. He hopes the offer, which is good until June 30, will boost center use.

GSA's 15 telework centers have room for about 400 workers, but only about 240 employees use them regularly.

'One of the reasons we are assuming agencies are not using the telecenters is the cost associated with them,' he said. 'Managers have not budgeted for it.'

The free trial would save agencies between $250 and $500 per employee per month.

GSA's offer comes on the heels of a recent OPM report to Congress on how agencies are promoting telework.

The report found that while telecommuting increased by 39.5 percent from April 1 to Oct. 1, the number of workers telecommuting still is a small fraction of the work force. The survey found 74,487 teleworkers in 63 agencies made up only 4.2 percent of the 1.7 million federal employees. National telework practices hover around 20 percent, according to a survey by the International Telework Association and Council.

'There still is a lot of work to be done, but we are making pro-gress,' said Mallie Burruss, OPM Worklife Program specialist, who worked on the report.

The report found manager resistance and lack of funding remain the top barriers to telework. GSA's offer would help with both those issues, Chistolini said.

Respondents said managers perceive a loss of control over teleworkers and business operations, as well as diminished communication. The survey offered suggestions to ease resistance, such as expanding training for managers and engaging an agency's CIO and chief financial officer in the development of telework programs.

The survey also recommended using electronic timekeeping technology and applications to track caseloads and work output.
Burruss said OPM will release a handbook later this month on how to get a program started and how to choose who is eligible for telecommuting. The handbook also will include best practices and other telework research.

Cheaper teleworking

OPM also is developing an e-learning module to help managers understand teleworking's benefits.

The funding issue centered on the cost of hardware, software, Internet connections and telecenter space rental.

Some of the suggestions to minimize costs included having employees use their own equipment and Web connections to telework and sharing telecenter space between several employees on different days.

'The telecenters provides technical assistance, copy machines, video conferencing and other amenities you don't have in your home office,' Chistolini said. 'Agencies can run one workstation and run many people through it.'

Burruss said a group of employees from different agencies will make recommendations to OPM and GSA on how to further telework.

For information about GSA's offer, visit www.telework.gov and click on 'telecenters.'

Reader Comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above