Some Managers Hope the Next Administration Will Abandon Telework

Would $12 billion in savings change their minds?

Is your manager embracing telework, or holding out that the work option is just a passing trend that will fade in a few years under new presidential leadership?

A forthcoming survey of federal managers received a number of hopeful responses that the telework buzz will die off in a few years when a new presidential administration takes over, said Kate Lister, president of Global Workforce Analytics and the Telework Research Network, which created the report on telework's opportunities and obstacles. The results are set for release sometime this month.

“We know the obstacles, and we know that managers are worried about not seeing their employees or knowing that they are working, or they’re worried that it will require extra work,” Lister told Wired Workplace. “We actually heard from a number of people in the survey that they are just waiting for the next administration so they won’t be bothered with [telework] anymore.”

A report released by GWA earlier this week may cause more managers to rethink that notion, though. Researchers estimated that well-implemented telework programs could save agencies and taxpayers between $6 billion and $12 billion per year, in part thanks to savings in areas like real estate, turnover, continuity of operations and transit costs.

In order to achieve those savings, however, managers and employees alike will have to be willing to accept change. Many employees, for example, want to telework but also do not want to give up their physical desk at the office, Lister said. “Unless you can reduce that one-to-one desk-to-person ratio, you’re not going to realize the real estate savings,” she said. “Workers are scared of the shared desk and open office environments, but if it’s done properly, people will get used to it and have a good experience.”

GWA based its high-end, $12 billion potential savings figure on its estimate that roughly 45 percent of the federal workforce could telework at least two and a half days per week. But Lister believes the level of eligibility in government could be even higher. “In government, a lot of the work is administrative and a lot of workers are out in the field,” she said. “It’s odd that those in the field are required to come into the office to file their paperwork. Why do they have to come to an office when they’ve been out patrolling for Smokey the Bear all week?”

And while agencies such as the General Services Administration are considered leaders on telework implementation, there are many agencies that are still considered far behind, Lister said. “The percentage of the federal population that teleworks is ahead of the private sector, but they’re behind in terms of the growth,” she said. “We saw a big surge after Hurricane Katrina, but it’s been trailing off ever since.”

The Great Recession has caused agencies and businesses to begin thinking about telework less tactically and more as a strategic tool for improving recruitment and retention, cutting costs and reducing the carbon footprint, Lister said. But going forward, some elements, namely the training and technology, will need to be improved in order for telework and collaboration to reach its full potential, she added.

“Eventually, we’ll stop looking at it as telework and more as the way we work,” she said. “When we stop putting a label on it, we’ll achieve the intent.”