OPM finds barriers to telework lowering

In its latest report to Congress, the Office of Personnel Management redefined what a teleworker is.

Of the more than 1.2 million federal employees eligible to telework, only about 9.5 percent say they do so at least once a month.

The Office of Personnel Management found in its latest report to Congress on progress on federal telework that 46,983 employees worked from an alternative site at least once a month, while 41,922 worked outside the office one or two days a week and 30,273 telecommuted at least three days a week.

OPM’s report, based on a survey of 78 agencies in fiscal 2005, found that agencies were doing a better job of promoting and using telework, but progress remains slow.

In all, more than 119,000 employees said they teleworked in 2005, while 70 percent were eligible to telework, OPM said. This is a decrease from the 2004 survey, when OPM found that more than 140,000 employees teleworked. Officials attribute the decrease to OPM’s better definition of a teleworker. In the past, OPM said anyone who worked from an alternative site even once a year is a teleworker. But for this survey, OPM tightened the definition to anyone who teleworks at least once per month.

Linda Springer, OPM director, said in a letter to Congress that the new definition would “elicit more reliable data on employee participation in telework, and…create a new baseline for future comparisons.”

Despite the increased attention to telework and lowering of some barriers, including technology, “there is still work to be done to fully integrate telework into the culture and business practices of some federal agencies,” OPM’s report states.

In another area, agencies have progressed with continuity of operations (COOP). The survey states that 27 agencies have fully integrated telework into their COOP plans, while 48 say they are considering adding telework to their emergency plans.

OPM refined this question for this survey after the Federal Emergency Management Agency strongly emphasized telecommuting as an integral part of any COOP plan.

The report also found that the biggest barrier to telework is ensuring someone is available to cover the office. About 54 percent of respondents said cultural resistance is still a problem, and 52 percent said management resistance accounts for the reason telework isn’t as prevalent.

Information technology funding or security concerns did not rank as high as a barrier as in past years, the survey found. In fact, 10 agencies said they experienced no barriers to telework.

OPM said 55 percent of those surveyed said management training on telework is the biggest barrier that needs to be addressed.

Almost 50 percent of all respondents said their agency either pays for equipment or shares the cost of the equipment for employees to telework.

Most of the employees who telework or who are eligible to telework fall in General Schedule grades 12 to 14, OPM found.

Grades 5, 7, 9 and 11 appear to be underrepresented as compared with the entire workforce, the survey states.

“This may be at least partly explained by the types of positions designated as ineligible by agencies,” OPM said. “But the data does not provide enough detail to be certain.”

OPM has five new initiatives planned to continue to promote telework. These include:

  • A telework forum at the Chief Human Capital Officers Training Academy.
  • A new telework guide.
  • Updated online training modules.
  • Working with the Defense community to address security issues.
  • Working with payroll providers to move toward an automated telework tracking system.