COMMENTARY

The evidence speaks in favor of telework

GSA and USPTO prove the benefits are real

Note: This article was updated at 12:04 p.m. Nov. 10 to include the latest estimates from the Telework Research Network. 

The payoffs from telework are undeniable.

Employers benefit from reduced costs, increased productivity, greater flexibility in their workforce and better hiring appeal.

Employees benefit from reduced travel time and commuting costs, flexible hours, a better balance of work and family, and the option of working in bunny slippers.

And society benefits from reduced pollution and traffic congestion, which makes life easier for those whose jobs require they work on-site or in the field.

General Services Administration Administrator Martha Johnson, for one, makes a compelling case for telework, as GCN’s William Jackson reports in this issue.

In a pilot program in Kansas City, Mo., 42 GSA employees worked from home for 90 days, resulting in increased productivity, reduced sick leave, better communication among employees and 30 fewer metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere. Overall, 85 percent of GSA employees are eligible to telework, and 42 percent of those eligible work outside the office at least two days per pay period, a rate Johnson said GSA plans to increase.

Increasing those rates only increases the benefits. A 2010 study by the Telework Research Network found 41 million U.S. residents working from home half of the time would buy 5.7 billion fewer gallons of gasoline a year, saving about $47 million a day. Oil imports could be cut by 37 percent and greenhouse gases would be reduced by 53 million metric tons a year — equivalent to taking almost 10 million cars off the road.

The Telework Exchange estimates that if all federal employees teleworked two days per week, the workforce would save $3.3 billion and reduce pollutants by 2.7 million tons a year.

Of course, not all employees, whether federal, state, local or private-sector, can telework. Some things just can’t be done off-site. But an awfully large portion of workers need only a secure computer connection and a phone of some kind for their jobs, and for them, the benefits of telework are real. And the technology is there.

None of this is a secret — the advantages of working remotely from home or at an agency telework center have been known and touted by proponents for years. But telework has often run up against resistance in organizations, with managers playing the heavy.

They fear losing control of their workforce, express concerns over incompatible technology in the home office and say some employees simply need a hands-on approach.

That’s no doubt true in certain cases. But overall, the evidence in favor of telework is becoming overwhelming because, for government, it’s no longer a projection or theory. Examples at GSA and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office have proven its value.

Resistant managers might be concerned about a worst-case scenario in which a dispersed, unseen workforce loses its way, and they might worry about how it would reflect on them. But consider the hard evidence: If you can cut costs and increase productivity, doesn’t that make a manager look good?

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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