Better government through telework: Agencies count the advantages

At Town Hall, officials talk of improved continuity of operations and real estate savings

When snowstorms closed down Atlanta for three days last winter, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, located in the city, stayed on the job, averaging 6,000 concurrent users logged on to its network during the shutdown.

“Many of us were able to work without interruption,” said Allison Tanner, executive officer in CDC’s Office of the Chief Operating Officer and the agency’s telework lead. “We couldn’t have done that three years ago, before the implementation of the telework program and the practice of teleworking every day.”

CDC’s experience reflected the common theme at the Spring Telework Exchange Town Hall meeting April 28 in Washington, which was not compliance with the Telework Enhancement Act but using workplace flexibility to improve efficiencies.

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“It’s an issue whose time has come,” said Sara Manzano-Diaz, director of the Labor Department’s Women’s Bureau.

Agencies that have implemented telework programs, either in pilot programs or in wide scale, are reporting improved productivity and morale. Requirements for traditional office space are being cut at the Patent and Trademark Office and CDC, and continuity of operations is becoming easier to maintain during disruptions.

The Telework Enhancement Act requires agencies to have updated policies in place this year to allow employees to work outside the traditional workplace. But the emerging drivers for telework are a variety of government initiatives and mandates to improve efficiency, cut costs and reduce carbon emissions.

The success stories came with caveats, however. Numbers show management is still resistant. An attendee at the conference summed up the management attitude at one department as: “If I can’t see you, you’re not working.”

“Telework is not for everyone,” Manzano-Diaz said; some people must be in the workplace to do their jobs.

But more than 80 percent of government workers are expected to be eligible for teleworking, and surveys have shown that 97 percent of workers would telework if allowed, said Stephen W.T. O’Keefe, executive director of the Telework Exchange. Yet only about 10 percent of federal workers are now teleworking.

Since passage of the Telework Enhancement Act, however, “We’ve seen a real shift in management attitudes toward,” telework, O’Keefe said. “Management attitude is improving.”

Justin Johnson, deputy chief of staff at the Office of Personnel Management, acknowledged that a fear of performance management inhibited government teleworking.

“We’re behind the private sector, and we realize that,” he said. “It is incumbent on us to show our results.”

Toward that end, OPM is launching a pilot program with 400 employees in Washington and in the Boyers, Pa., field office using Results Only Work Environment (ROWE, a branded management program owned by CultureRx). The premise of ROWE is that it does not matter when or where work gets done as long as it gets done. Some of those participating in the pilot program cannot telework, Johnson said, but they can still have flexible schedules.

The pilot program was announced last year during the White House forum on workplace flexibility and, if successful, the agency plans to expand it vigorously within OPM and use it as a model for other agencies.

The program began in July after three months of training and preparation, and was first scheduled to wind up by the end of 2010, with a final report due from Deloitte in February 2011. But Johnson said officials decided to extend the program through the end of fiscal 2011 and that a final report will be completed by the end of the calendar year.

Telework also was cited in a presidential memorandum issued last June on Disposing of Unneeded Federal Real Estate. The memo calls on agencies to accelerate efforts to identify and eliminate excess real estate and to make better use of remaining property. The program is expected to save as much as $3 billion through 2012. Telework, with employees working remotely outside traditional offices, is expected help to reduce the need for office space.

Kevin Kampschroer, director of the General Services Administration’s office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings, said $1.7 billion in savings already had been identified.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has saved $18 million in real estate costs through having 6,000 employees working outside the office at least some of each week. At CDC, workers who sign telework agreements also agree to share space when in the office, cutting the need for traditional, assigned office space.

“We spend millions of dollars a year on space, and we never seem to have enough,” Tanner said.

A program to provide encrypted laptops to teleworkers has been expanded to replace traditional desktop PCs with laptops, she said.

“Over time we are going to see some cost savings from this,” along with reorganizing office space, she said. “These kinds of things take a little time before you achieve savings, but we’re well on our way.”


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Reader Comments

Wed, May 4, 2011

I have been full-time teleworking for nearly 10 years for a med-sized Fed contractor with direct Fed access/support. The key to successful telecommuting is a completely separate work space from the home environment. I actually have a separate building on my property which is my home office. The commute is "down the stairs, across the deck, and turn right." My office includes all needs/tools including a large glass wall overlooking a nature preserve which borders my property. Communication/dialog with the corporate office is seamless and works well via multiple collaborative technologies ranging from real-time chat to video conferencing. Teleworking is clearly the way to go! No fuel commuting expenses or time wasted in rush hour traffic. Oh yea, I also live in a resort destination town and the beach is about 2 minutes away! Talk about a morale booster and incentive to telework!

Tue, May 3, 2011

There is absolutely no way could I telework from my home. Too many distractions!

Tue, May 3, 2011 Olde Sarge Washington, DC

Telework is a win-win for the organization and the employee. Little wonder that the actual result is more productivity and less operating costs. SOTE Contractor, you are better off not having landed the REAL worker position with the agency you support. It would have stifled your engenuity. If you have the option, bail that contract for a better gig. Some agencies have actually learned how to better manage both their REAL workers and their contractors. At least be glad you don't support Kelly. Hey Kelly, I never new commuting to Ft. Huachuca could be stressful. It's not exactly New York, L.A., or DC. Perhaps you should consider some professional management training. An employee is an employee, whether or not he's a contractor. Seems like SOTE Contractor was purchased labor not someone building a software application, especially if he had to clean up behind the REAL workers.

Mon, May 2, 2011 SOTE Contractor Federal Agency

I make 25% more than my contract boss but 20% less than our Federal boss. And I have been trying to become one of the REAL workers at this agency for the last 26 years. That is a long time to be just one of those scum computer janitors that clean up after bad Federal decisions.

Mon, May 2, 2011 Kelly Ft. Huachuca

Telework allowed me to work from home for 6 week recovering from a massive heart attack. I was still able to carry on my duties but without the stress of commuting to and from work. To SOTE Contractor - you make quite a bit more than a federal employee. You are a contractor. Your much the same as a person dong my yard work. Yes, I want to watch you because I hired you to do a job and it's my hide to make sure you deliver. If you don't like that kind of life, then take a 25%+ paycut and join the government. Otherwise quit or shut your whining piehole.

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