Welles: The telework dance

Proponents fret about the lack of straightforward momentum for expanding government telework.

The telework dance continues with two steps forward and one step backward. Time magazine’s April 9 issue listed 51 things that people can do to affect climate change, and No. 13 was letting employees work close to home to shorten their commuting time. Working closer to home — some call it proximate commuting — conserves energy, decreases gridlock and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. All of those changes are important to maintaining a healthy environment. Telework, with no commute at all, would have an even greater effect on reducing global warming.   A 2006 Gallup Poll found that 32 percent of working adults in all industries telecommuted, an increase from only 9 percent 10 years ago. Progress has occurred on the telework front.  But some members of Congress say more is needed. Sens. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) introduced the Telework Enhancement Act of 2007, a bill to expand opportunities for federal employees to telework and, Stevens said, help protect the environment.  The legislation would change federal telework requirements by creating more opportunities for employees to work from home. It would make all federal employees eligible to telework unless their employers determined otherwise. Current federal law states that employees are ineligible to telework unless their agencies approve it. The legislation would also require that employee reviews include a discussion of whether telework is feasible for the employee. Stevens and Landrieu introduced the legislation about the time that two groups published new telework survey reports. The reports show an increased interest in telework among federal agencies. The CDW Government 2007 Telework Report found that although the federal government’s adoption of telework is lagging overall, it outpaces that of the private sector. However, 67 percent of those who responded to a recent survey by Telework Exchange said top-down support remained the biggest obstacle to widespread teleworking. This attitude takes us two steps back. Nevertheless, participation in telework programs is up slightly. Forty-four percent of federal employees who responded to the  CDW-G survey indicated that they have the option of teleworking. That’s up 6 percent from 2006. However, only 15 percent of private-sector employees who responded said they have that option.  Federal information technology departments have increased their support for teleworkers, according to the CDW-G report. Nearly two-thirds of federal IT professionals said their agencies have written IT policies, but fewer than half of private-sector IT professionals said their companies have such policies. Nearly a third of private-sector companies do not provide technical support for teleworkers.   Andy Lausch, director of federal sales for CDW-G, said the biggest surprise is the gap between the federal government and the private sector. Lausch added that “people are asking more questions, and technology has improved.” .

CDW-G telework report

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Welles is a retired federal employee who has worked in the public and private sectors. She lives in Bethesda, Md., and writes about work life topics for Federal Computer Week. She can be reached atjudywelles@1105govinfo.com

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