Some Say Telework Law Hinders Federal Telework

Evgeny Karandaev/

Most see it as a boon for mobility.

While many experts tout the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act as a boon for boosting telework participation in the federal government, a few federal telework executives are not so fond of the law.  

A survey of 120 federal telework coordinators and executives by Global Workplace Analytics and Citrix found that a few respondents believe that the Telework Enhancement Act has hindered the progress of telework at their agency.

“We were already doing all the things prescribed by the act by the time it was signed. It actually set us back,” one respondent noted in the report. “Instead of looking at the broader issue of mobility, we’re focusing on just this one little piece.”

The research also indicates that the federal government has failed to keep pace with all other sectors on telework implementation. Since 2007, private sector employers and state and local governments have expanded telework by between 27 percent and 39 percent, while federal telework has grown by just 8 percent, according to data from the U.S. Census American Community Survey.

And even despite efforts like the Telework Enhancement Act, most federal telework leaders are still facing the same obstacles, the survey found. Nearly half (48 percent) of respondents believe that management resistance is having a high or very high impact on their agency’s telework success. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) believe agency cultures are having at least a moderate negative impact on telework implementation.

“Many managers will admit that the trust isn’t there and they know their employees already don’t produce, so holding them accountable outside the office would be impossible,” one respondent noted.

None of the other obstacles surveyed – such as security, lack of technology or lack of funding – were considered high or very high barriers to success by more than one in five respondents. While concerns about security and access to technology continue, many agencies have found ways to overcome them, according to the report.

Tom Simmons, area vice president for the U.S. public sector at Citrix, echoed the views of the survey respondents, saying agency leadership and middle management must commit to telework, in part by teleworking themselves, in order to understand the advantages of the flexible work option and other mobility programs at federal agencies.

“Those who telework themselves tend to promote it, while those who are more comfortable coming into the office and punching the clock are more inclined to manage their employees the same way,” Simmons told Wired Workplace. “The more we can get managers to embrace telework in their own mode of doing business, the greater we can drive adoption.”

Having a budget to fund telework training, creating greater integration of mandates (i.e. cost sharing, combined RFPs and information sharing), and simply retiring the word telework also were considered by many respondents as positive steps in moving telework forward.

“The word ‘telework’ generates an immediate negative reaction among many of the managers in my agency,” one respondent states in the report. “I look forward to the day when it’s just ‘work’ like any other day in the office or out of it.”