Three Overlooked Telework Trends

Power as a recruiting tool, management resistance and equipment issues may deserve more attention.

The Office of Personnel Management last week released the first status update on telework since the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act was passed, and while this blog and other media outlets have covered the report, one expert says there are three important trends for telework that have gone unnoticed.

In a blog post on Thursday, Josh Sawislak, senior fellow at Telework Exchange, writes about some of the telework report’s unheralded findings. The first, he writes, is that telework has become a strategic tool not only for business continuity and resilience but also for recruiting and retaining top talent.

“This is very important as salaries for feds are frozen and everyone seems to want to throw pies at federal workers,” he wrote. “When the economy turns around, all those feds who can retire really will and we will need to find good people to replace them.”

The second trend is the continued issue of management resistance, Sawislak wrote. While the OPM data shows that agencies are using online training on OPM’s website, that training may be too focused on rules and procedures, rather than on the more important issues of management theory and practice, he said.

Finally, there is an issue with equipment teleworkers use -- who provides it and who pays. For example, the report found that one-quarter of the hardware is provided by the agency, one-quarter is provided by the employee, one-quarter is shared and the rest falls into an “other” category. At the same time, nearly all teleworkers are paying for all or most of their broadband costs. “What we really need is a better understanding of the drivers, such as, do the agencies that are paying all require the employees to use government equipment?” Sawislak wrote.

Overall, Sawislak cautions us all to remember that OPM’s report is just an initial baseline of where telework stands, and for now, to focus more on the lessons learned than on the actual data. “The key lesson I took from the report is that this is just the beginning of a new way of managing our workforce and it will take time to make everything work,” he wrote. “It’s like going to the gym: thinking and talking about it doesn’t get you into better shape, and once you go, it’s just the beginning of the process.”

What are your thoughts? Are the lessons learned more valuable than actual telework numbers at this point? What other trends are you seeing for federal telework?