In 2010, Congress passed the Telework Enhancement Act, which was designed to increase the adoption and implementation of telework policies across the federal government and its agencies.
By increasing telework adoption, the government was hoping to slash budgets, increase employee productivity and also enable continuity of operations (COOP) when natural disasters and other incidents kept federal employees from making it to their offices.
To ensure that telework benchmarks were being met, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has been collecting and analyzing telework statistics across the government. The agency released its first report detailing the state of telework in the federal government earlier this month, and the numbers are promising.
According to OPM, 21 percent of eligible federal employees are teleworking. That number is up significantly from before the Telework Enhancement Act was passed, when the percentage of teleworking federal employees was just 10 percent.
Although that’s an impressive 11 percent jump in just two short years, it’s still less than a quarter of the eligible federal workforce teleworking. That’s a small percentage of the entire federal workforce, considering the benefits that telework can deliver, such as: decreasing the need for costly real estate, slashing agency utility costs, increasing productivity, reducing commutes, enabling recruiting, improving retention and increasing job satisfaction among employees.
So just what is keeping eligible federal workers from working from home? Unfortunately, key stakeholders, such as managers, continue to hamper further utilization of telework policies.
According to the OPM report, stakeholders are responsible for as much as 26 percent of the eligible federal workers not taking advantage of telework initiatives. A large part of this is due to misconceptions of telework. Many managers fear that teleworkers will be less productive or will neglect work when outside of the office. Others are nervous that a distributed workforce will negatively impact communication and collaboration among employees.
This OPM report isn’t the only evidence that management is prohibiting further telework adoption. A question recently posed in the government-focused social network, GovLoop, asked members why more government employees weren’t embracing telework. Despite some reports to the contrary, the general consensus was that supervisors are a contributing factor.
There is good news, though. As technology advances, many of the concerns that managers have about telework are being eliminated.
Cloud computing and mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, are making it easier for federal employees to securely access the documents, records and information that they need from wherever they’re working. Also, advanced Unified Communications (UC) technologies, such as video teleconferencing (VTC) solutions are enabling face-to-face communication between government employees regardless of the distance separating them. This means that teleworking federal employees can still be seen and managed by their supervisors, and employees can continue to communicate and collaborate even when not in the same location.
As the OPM report shows, the federal government is making headway towards wide adoption of telework, despite some the movement facing some challenges. However, with today’s new technologies and the increasing evidence of telework’s benefits in the workplace, it’s only a matter of time before telework becomes commonplace in the federal government.