Expanding Federal Telework Could Save $12 Billion a Year

Research looks at real estate, transit subsidies and continuity of operations.

Expanding federal telework programs doesn't just help federal employees and managers; it also could benefit taxpayers by as much as $12 billion per year, according to a new report

Released last week by Global Workplace Analytics and the Telework Research Network, the report estimated that well-implemented federal telework programs could save taxpayers between $6 billion and $12 billion per year. Those figures were calculated based on a set of assumptions about the impact of telework on real estate, absenteeism, turnover, productivity, transit subsidies, continuity of operations and health care.

The report estimated savings based on default assumptions from GWA’s Federal Telework Savings Calculator, which is continually updated based on more than 4,000 case studies and articles.

The GWA research drew from the Office of Personnel Management’s annual telework status report, the latest of which includes data from 2011, less than one year after the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act was passed. “Since additional employees will presumably have become eligible and begun to telework since that time, our savings estimates may be understated,” the GWA report said.

More specifically, if 88 percent of the 32 percent of employees OPM deemed eligible to telework in 2011 did so two days per week, the government would save roughly $6 billion per year. This breaks down to real estate savings of up to 30 percent, productivity increases of 12.5 percent, a 4 percent decrease in turnover, and a 3-day average decrease in absenteeism.  

On the high end, where 45 percent of federal employees were deemed eligible to telework, and 88 percent of them did so 2.5 days per week, agencies could save roughly $12 billion per year, the study found. This breaks down to real estate savings of 50 percent, productivity increases of 15 percent, a 10 percent decrease in turnover and a 6-day decrease in absenteeism.

Both of those scenarios also would result in transit cost savings based on the frequency of telework, as well as continuity of operations savings of at least 1 day per year and a 1 percent decrease in health care costs, the study found.

A report released by the Government Accountability Office in July found that agency leadership had not committed to implementing and tracking telework’s progress, despite the requirements of the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act. Most agencies lacked the technological capabilities and leadership to effectively monitor telework statistics, GAO found.

The Telework Research Network is offering a lite version of its Federal Telework Savings Calculator to agencies at no charge during the 2014 telework data call, hoping to provide a tool to effectively measure and report telework progress and cost savings out to OPM and Congress. Mobile Work Exchange last week also unveiled a return-on-investment calculator that can help agencies more effectively measure and track telework’s benefits and cost savings.  

“Unless there is a common framework for measuring success across government – a way to benchmark performance – agencies will be operating in the blind,” the GWA report stated. “Without goals, standards and consistent methods of measuring success, telework risks becoming just another failed experiment and government risks falling behind the rest of the world.”