Monday marks the three-year anniversary of the signing of the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act, which required agencies to establish expanded telework programs and notify all employees of their eligibility to telework.
“The law introduced concepts that made it concrete and actual for agencies to set specific requirements that standardize how they defined and implemented telework and made sure there was consistency on how it was adopted,” said Cindy Auten, general manager for Mobile Work Exchange. “It has really helped charge those agencies that were sitting on the fence to push them and give them those tangible requirements for what needs to be done to move forward.”
Many agencies starting from scratch on telework as a result of the law really struggled in the beginning to meet a 180-day mandate to notify all employees of their eligibility to telework, Auten said. At the same time, those requirements brought positive changes to those agencies, helping leadership see the business case for telework, she added.
There's no exact measure of progress agencies have made on telework since the law’s passage in 2010, in large part because the Office of Personnel Management has not yet released its 2013 telework status report. The most recent status report, released in July 2012, measured federal employee participation rates in 2011 at 21 percent, more than double 2009 levels.
Still, there are clues that telework has made great strides at federal agencies over the past three years. OPM’s 2013 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey found that more than half (56 percent) of the nearly 380,000 feds surveyed have been notified they are eligible to telework, with 42 percent doing so at least on an unscheduled or short-term basis. Twenty-one percent of feds said they telework at least one or two days per week.
That same survey also showed the majority (79 percent) of feds are satisfied with their agency’s telework program, an increase of 3 percent over the 2012 survey.
Auten pointed to other studies that also are a testament to telework’s progress at federal agencies, including one released in July by Commuter Connections, that showed 38 percent of federal employees in the Washington, D.C. region telework or work remotely at least occasionally, up from 27 percent in 2010 and just 16 percent in 2007. Mobile Work Exchange also saw record participation in its annual Telework Week event in March, which drew 136,093 total pledges, a growth of 91 percent over the 2012 event.
“Prior to the law, we saw some great examples of telework at agencies certainly, but we wouldn’t see as much widespread adoption if it weren’t for the law,” Auten said.
As agencies enter their fourth year of telework expansion, Auten believes the conversations will continue to center around an overall mobility strategy, particularly as agencies grapple with how they can allow technology to be an enabler to make employees more productive while also ensuring the right security measures are in place to protect data.
“There’s no stopping this mobility movement, but putting policies in place and training employees can certainly protect agencies,” Auten said. “The technology is really driving that conversation right now.”
It also may be time for some of the agencies that struggled in the beginning in getting their telework programs off the ground to verify whether the decisions previously made on an employee’s eligibility were correct, Auten said. Agencies also need to automate their processes for calculating telework participation and return-on-investment, she added.
“Every year, we hit different levels in the milestones,” Auten said. “It doesn’t go without challenges, but I think we’re moving in a positive direction. It’s not just about federal employees; it’s about agencies, productivity and how they run their business.”