Will the federal government’s ongoing push for telework give a boost to its mobility initiatives? Or will mobility be a boost for telework?
One way or the other, mobile technology clearly will play an essential role in the telework environment by offering agencies a wide and growing range of options for providing employees with access to the applications and other resources they need to do their jobs from home.
Telework clearly is trending upward. On average, respondents to a survey of federal, state and local employees reported that 26 percent of people in their agencies teleworked at least one day per week. In two years, that could be as high as 36 percent.
Fifty-two percent of respondents said their agencies had teleworking plans in place, and another 18 percent said their agencies were working to develop their plans. Just 30 percent said their agencies had no plan at all.
The Agriculture Department is among the latest agencies to ramp up its telework initiative. In May, department officials announced that three-quarters of USDA employees — more than 90,000 — are now eligible to telework, up from 16,000 in 2011.
But telework itself is in the process of evolving, thanks largely to mobility. The Office of Personnel Management makes a point to distinguish between remote workers — that is, employees who work at alternative work sites, such as home — and mobile workers, who conduct business while on the road. But the difference between the two, practically speaking, is increasingly blurred.
“Most federal employees work in a hybrid model, where they work at home, on the go and at the office,” said Cindy Auten, general manager at the Mobile Work Exchange (previously the Telework Exchange), an online community and public/private partnership focused on demonstrating the value of mobility and telework.
The survey conducted by the 1105 Government Information Group bears this out. On average, respondents reported that 24 percent of their agencies’ employees were out of the office more than half the time, which is expected to rise to 27 percent over the next two years (see chart).
Additionally, 13 percent of employees have no permanent workspace when they are in the office, which should rise to 17 percent in two years. All told, between teleworkers, frequent travelers and full-time road warriors, a large percentage of employees in many agencies will need to do work outside the office on a regular basis.
“With this type of environment, agencies need to provide flexible tools,” Auten said. “Laptops and mobile devices fit into this model, rather than offering a home PC for many employees.”
More and more agencies are likely to take advantage of the numerous tools that are emerging from the convergence of mobility and cloud. In years past, telework solutions focused on providing remote users with access to central resources. Increasingly now, those resources are being put in the cloud, where they are equally accessible to users in the office, at home or on the road.
Mobile devices have other benefits as well, Auten said. According to research by the Mobile Work Exchange, the technology not only improves productivity but also communications among colleagues in different locations.