Get a Life: Telework resistance in agencies at odds with benefits

Blogger Judy Welles notes that a recent survey showed a significant drop in the number of feds eligible to telework, even though agencies cite positive returns.

In the report to Congress on the status of telework at federal agencies, Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry wrote, "We have significant work ahead to develop a strong telework culture." The eye-opening report almost makes that an understatement.

Governmentwide, only 102,900 out of 1,962,975 federal employees -- 5.2 percent --actually teleworked in 2008. And that was a slight increase over 2007.

Agencies with the greatest increases in total number of teleworkers included the departments of Interior, Transportation, and Veterans Affairs and the General Services Administration. One program area that saw a significant increase in teleworking was Interior's U.S. Geological Survey (4,750 to 8,857).

The frequency of telework also increased. More people worked at home one to two days and some even 3 days a week

But the number of federal employees eligible to telework decreased significantly, by some 51,000. Agencies where substantial decreases occurred included the departments of Commerce, State and Treasury.

Although telework is only inching along, agencies still reported cost savings and benefits. The greatest benefit was seen in improved morale. But also, one third of agencies cited productivity and performance benefits.

Among major barriers to telework, nearly two thirds of agencies cited concerns about office coverage. More than half saw management resistance and organizational culture as barriers, and one third cited IT security and IT funding.

Many agencies are tackling the barriers with training for managers and employees; some have established budget for IT expenditures.

Berry emphasized the importance of telework in his guidance last week on H1N1 flu preparedness. Noting that the Federal Government cannot shut down, he called for mitigating the effects of a flu pandemic through "social distancing interventions such as telework."

He also stressed that agencies need to implement and maintain a strong IT system to accommodate remote usage of agency systems. He called for sufficient technical support personnel to resolve remote connectivity issues.

In guidance to agency heads, he wrote, "As many employees as possible should have telework capability...connectivity and equipment commensurate with their work needs, and frequent opportunities to telework so that systems are tested and known to be functional."

This flu season might be just the right time to start testing.

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