It used to be that if you weren’t in the office, you couldn’t get much done. But now, people can be connected and productive almost anywhere. Five years ago this week, Congress enacted the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 to help the federal government use telework for flexible workforce management. Since then, we’ve reviewed some of the advances—and challenges–of federal telework programs.
Telework has the potential to provide a range of benefits. For employers, it can help
- recruit and retain staff
- reduce energy use
- save on real estate costs, if fewer employees need office space.
For employees, telework can help balance work-life commitments and reduce commuting costs. Even non-teleworkers can benefit from fewer people on the roads.
But prior to the Telework Enhancement Act, federal agencies weren’t required to have policies for their authorized teleworkers. The act changed that by requiring agencies to create telework policies and establish participation goals, among other things.
So how well does federal telework work? In 2013, we reported on discussions we had with officials from small agencies and OPM officials, who had surveyed and spoken to officials from large agencies.
At both large and small agencies, feds reported management resistance to telework—such as managers having different expectations for teleworkers and non-teleworkers. For example, one official told us that some less experienced managers require a written report from teleworkers summarizing what they accomplished while teleworking.
In addition, a number of agency officials worried about the IT costs to increase telework. An official at one agency said that during Hurricane Sandy there weren’t enough software licenses—a costly IT expense—to accommodate all teleworking employees. Costs were a particular concern to officials at small agencies.
People at large agencies also reported concerns about fairness, such as who gets to telework; how teleworking can affect how employees are evaluated; and how teleworkers can get face time with managers.
People at small agencies worried about how to cope when people who have unique roles telework. To address the issue of office coverage, one official said his agency requires a “buddy system” for teleworkers so there are backup staff in the office to meet unexpected on-site needs.
While federal agencies may struggle with implementing telework, the Office of Personnel Management has the difficult role of assessing each agency’s progress in meeting certain telework goals, like the impact of telework on energy use, emergency readiness, and other factors.
In part since federal agencies had not been previously required to measure such things, OPM found that agencies struggled to do so. That, plus a lack of baseline data, may be dissuading agencies from focusing attention on telework goals. Earlier this month, OPM released its most recent telework report to Congress, which we will be reviewing.
Although the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 turns 5 this week, we’ve been reporting on telework in the federal government for years. Check out our key issue page on telework in the federal government for more.