Can agencies take the next step on telework?

Conference will tackle new requirements for promoting the practice

With deadlines approaching for promoting government telework, compliance with a new law and other mandates is expected to be the big topic at the Telework Town Hall on April 28.

“The big question is, how are agencies doing with the Telework Enhancement Act,” said Cindy Auten, general manager of the Telework Exchange, which is hosting the Washington conference. “The bill is clearly top of mind.”

The conference will feature speakers from industry and government on best practices and lessons learned in developing telework programs, as well as separate management and technology tracks on implementing and measuring the success of programs.


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The most immediate issue is meeting a June deadline for notifying workers of their eligibility to do government work away from the office. But agencies will also have to develop business cases for the programs and ensure that IT support and employee unions and human resources offices are fully involved.

Officials also should be looking past mere compliance with the new act, Auten said.

“How should agencies set goals beyond telework participation,” such as enhancing recruitment and reducing real estate costs, she said. “This is something that Congress is going to ask.”

The Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 requires agencies to establish policies for working remotely and designate telework managing officers. It also calls for the Office of Personnel Management to develop regulations for implementing policies as well as guidelines for IT acquisition that would support telework. The Office of Management and Budget and the National Institute of Standards and Technology will establish security guidelines for remote workers. All federal employees are to be notified of their eligibility for telework under the new policies by June 9.

Telework also was cited in a presidential memorandum issued last June as something that is expected to save as much as $3 billion through better management of real estate. The memo, titled "Disposing of Unneeded Federal Real Estate," calls on agencies to accelerate efforts to identify and eliminate excess real estate and to make better use of remaining property. Telework, with employees working remotely outside traditional offices, can help to reduce the need for office space.

Promoting telework has long been a government priority, and OPM reported that the number of government employees working remotely increased by more than 11,000 from 2008 to 2009, and that slightly more than 10 percent of eligible employees — or 5.72 percent of all federal employees — are teleworking. But studies of ad hoc telework indicate that as many as 89 percent of workers do some sort of work outside of the office informally, including checking voice mail and e-mail.

“People are moving aggressively,” Auten said. “We are very excited about how far they have come. They have hit the ground running.”

There are examples of successful programs, such as the General Services Administration, where 85 percent of workers have been identified as eligible to telework and 42 percent work outside the office at least two days every pay period. But successful adoption of formal programs still remains spotty.

Two recent evolutions in technology — cloud computing and the use of increasingly powerful personal mobile devices such as smart phones — are both enabling and complicating remote working.

“They have paved the way to support telework adoption,” Auten said. But, she added, they also are adding new layers of complexity for IT management and security.

 

About the Author

William Jackson is freelance writer and the author of the CyberEye blog.

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