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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 02/18/2011

Report: Less than 6% of federal workers telework

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

New government figures show few federal workers were taking advantage of telework options in the year before President Obama signed a bill requiring agencies to develop work-at-home plans.

The results come at the end of a week-long effort to promote telework as a useful work option for federal employees. More than 38,000 workers across the country participated in Telework Week -- an organized effort to work at least one day from home to cut back on emissions and save on commuting costs. Most of the participants are Washington-area federal employees, according to the Telework Exchange, an advocacy group sponsoring the program.

Participants were expected to save more than $2.7 million in commuting costs and about 1,800 tons of emissions, the group said.

Despite the savings, statistics released Thursday suggest most eligible federal employees are still working within the walls of federal buildings.

According to an Office of Personnel Management report submitted to Congress Thursday, just under 6 percent of the federal workforce -- or 113,946 employees -- teleworked in 2009, an increase of more than 11,000 workers from the previous year.

Of those who used the option, more than two-thirds did so at least once a week, OPM said. A majority of teleworkers are women and rank and file workers, with few managers taking advantage of the option. Seventy-nine percent of teleworkers are 40 or older and have worked for the government more than 20 years.

OPM compiled its figures by reviewing its Employee Viewpoint Survey, which tracks federal work satisfaction.

Some agency officials and federal workers unions pushed Congress for years to approve legislation allowing federal employees broader flexibility to work from home when necessary, arguing that the option would cut down on long commutes to work, increase productivity and keep federal agencies operating in the event of bad weather or terrorist attacks in the Washington area. Obama also argued the option would help federal agencies stay competitive with private sector companies that allow employees to work from home.

In his report, OPM Director John Berry said teleworking programs are effective because participants "can only be judged by their results. Those who can't perform and can't improve can't hide behind their desks. It is up to management to give our employees clear direction and support and then trust them to deliver."

In an effort to boost participation levels, Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) reintroduced a bill this week that would give teleworkers who use the option at least 75 days a year tax breaks of up to $1,000 to cover related expenses.

Wittman's district covers potions of the Northern Virginia and the Hampton Roads regions, where traffic remains a big issue, he said. "The recent 'thundersnow' storm, during which many Virginians experienced hours of delay in their commute times, illustrates the need for flexibility in the workplace, and especially the ability to work from the comfort and safety of one's home," he said in a statement.

The option also helps federal employees more satisfied with their work, according to another report released this week by the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service. The group, which maintains a content partnership with The Washington Post, dug into the findings of its Best Places to Work survey to conclude that workers not given the option of working from home are the least satisfied in the federal workforce.

Teleworkers also said they felt bosses were holding them accountable for their work at the same degree to those who work at the office -- conclusions that seem to dispel the concerns of some federal managers who believe employees working remotely can't be held responsible for their performance, the report said.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | February 18, 2011; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Workplace Issues  
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Ed O'Keefe... "Despite the savings, statistics released Thursday suggest federal employees still prefer working within the walls of federal buildings."

C'mon now Ed... that is a false and misleading statement. Employees DO NOT have a choice. It is upper management calling the shots! NOT employees! Get your FACTS straight!

Posted by: spankyfrost | February 18, 2011 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Teleworking for most federal employees does not make sense - esp. in the current climate of 'fed bashing' that everyone seems to be participating in. Most federal jobs, esp. here in DC where the HQs of most Depts and agencies reside, are not conducive to maintaining productivity or effectiveness while teleworking. Most HQ staff jobs just don't lend themselves to teleworking productivity regardless of what 'studies' say or show. There are synergies at the staff level that can only be achieved by being physically present at the job site. That's just a fact.

Posted by: Sojouner | February 18, 2011 11:14 AM | Report abuse

We would love to work at home - except our agency, the VA, will not allow us to work at home unless we do 50 percent more work at home than in the office. We have not had a work at home policy at our office in over 3 years due to this requirement.

Please get your facts straight - alot of employees would love to do it - but agent management is putting roadblocks up

Posted by: FedinTexas | February 18, 2011 12:02 PM | Report abuse

There is not a single federal agency that I know of that allows for tele-work

I keep seeing these articles and wondering which Agencies allow it because every agency I know of don't want it or allow it

Posted by: Bious | February 18, 2011 12:11 PM | Report abuse

It's amazing that anyone could think that federal works prefer to work within the confines of these lovely federal buildings. Absolutely not the case. Senior management has put their heels in with very old management styles -- expecting our workforce to only work when they are watching. I am a manager but am not allowed to approve my employees' requests for telework because it is against "policy." When will they get it through their heads that "Work is what you do, not where you go."

Posted by: DixieD1 | February 18, 2011 12:21 PM | Report abuse

It's amazing that anyone could think that federal works prefer to work within the confines of these lovely federal buildings. Absolutely not the case. Senior management has put their heels in with very old management styles -- expecting our workforce to only work when they are watching. I am a manager but am not allowed to approve my employees' requests for telework because it is against "policy." When will they get it through their heads that "Work is what you do, not where you go."

Posted by: DixieD1 | February 18, 2011 12:22 PM | Report abuse

In my agency, our IT department is spending tens of thousands of dollars on souped-up laptops who's only job is to support an occasional VPN connection to the mainframe. They refuse to give us software and an RSA key to the same job. They refuse to respec the machines to support a network connection. We don't need 2.5GHz machines with 4GBRAM, with 120GB drives just to connect to the Internet.

Posted by: Jimmy371 | February 18, 2011 2:09 PM | Report abuse

I telework 2 days a week and hate the weeks when it is necessary for me to come in to the office 5 days a week (mainly training or IT needing to scan my computer). DoC and NOAA (from my experience), encourage teleworking. My office has a telework policy/guideline and the majority of employees have a docking laptop. Our senior management encourages regular telework below the levels of management. Most employees (including management) have an occasional telework plan in place as well.

Posted by: Fed823 | February 18, 2011 2:33 PM | Report abuse

As a Video conferencing consultant, my comments are focused on why managers may be reluctant to embrace teleworking:

1) They fear it will not be secure enough to protect their valuable information. This is a healthy fear, however, there is actually a FIPS 140-2 Validated list of vendors who have met the strict and stringent requirements set forth by NIST for video conferencing. Outside of this list, be wary of vendors who use the words compliance and certification interchangeably. Additionally, while the vendor may have some products on the validated list, this does not mean that all of their products are certified.

The bottom line is this: are you prepared to "switch-out" your web conferencing tool down when/if certification is required by your own needs or those of your partners/clients? Will you have the staff to support that? Will you have the funds to support that?

2) They may be concerned that they will lose control of their workers and their schedules. Many systems currently offer some level of presence detection. Those features should increase as vendors determine more and better ways to support these needs. At a minimum, you should be able to tell at a glance if a worker is 1) Available, 2) Away, 3) Appears Offline, 4) Do not disturb or 5) In a Meeting.

3) They may worry that the cost of the endeavor will skyrocket out of control. There are web-based tools out there today that allow for the use of an existing laptop or desktop, with the addition of a simple webcam to create a highly sophisticated virtual conferencing workstation.

To keep the costs maneageable, you can look for products that have a pricing structure that allows for unlimited meetings at a single monthly price. Additionally, it is highly beneficial if there is an unlimited site user license available. You definitely do not want to get into a situation where you are charged extra for features like the unlimited recording and playback of meetings. It is also a huge bonus if they offer a "Free Temporary User License". This is great for any organization that frequently meets with or interviews people outside of their organization.

4) They may be concerned that the video and audio quality will not be good enough to support great meetings. That should be addressed in the sales cycle, determining what bandwidth you will require throughout your organization. You can choose from products where the audio and video are both of excellent quality, and are easily adjustable on each user’s own device. Support should be readily available at all times, and it is best if it is accessible via a built-in instant messaging system, so as not to waste time calling hotlines or waiting for emails to be returned.

You can follow this link for more about the top eight (8) priorities you should consider when selecting a web based video conferencing system:

Posted by: VTCConsultant | February 18, 2011 3:06 PM | Report abuse

Seems like the majority of the the people whom I know that are federal employees prefer to flex their schedules. You know, work ten hours a day and take Monday or Friday off. I've always assumed thats the reason traffic is usually much lighter those days.

Posted by: PracticalIndependent | February 18, 2011 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Many more Dept of Veterans Affairs (DVA)employees would work at home if management allowed it, and did not make it mandatory to perform so grossly above the work in- office employees. This is the case in Portland, Oregon. Like the poster above stated, the DVA runs an incredibly paternalistic shop that wants control over workers to the most miniscule degree imaginable. Wonder why employee moral stinks? Between the attacks on working Federal/State workers by the Republicans and micromanaging at it's worse, workers are happy to flea their work at retirement. Sad way to spend 30 years. The only consulation is the good work we do for our constituents which is incredibly rewarding.

Posted by: milana41 | February 18, 2011 7:33 PM | Report abuse

The agency I work for is suppose to be allowing their employees to work it. However managers make it very difficult. When you put in a request to work from home you are frowned upon. Until managers are evaluated on how many employees work from home, it will continue to be an up hill battle.

Posted by: DCBornRaised | February 18, 2011 8:58 PM | Report abuse

Most of the coupons don't even work unless you use good websites some of them Printapons retail me not etc, so do some research before you buy anything!

Posted by: dayleslover | February 19, 2011 6:02 AM | Report abuse

At EPA, Telework ranges from discouraged entirely to two days a week. The biggest problem is the poor training and support for managers in managing Telework.

Measuring work is asy when measuring widget production. We don't produce widgets. It's pretty difficult to put in 8-10 straight hours of work from a remote location at least it is for me.

Telework policies need to allow more for periods of work over the course of a day. Like I worked 7-915, then I did laundry from 915 to 1030, then I did work, then I was off, the on, etc. It's very hard to believe that people work 8-10 hours consecutively without diverting to other tasks. People with young children at home are suppose to have someone else watch the children while they work. That is not reality. Reality is I worked at home and over the course of the day I put in x hours not I worked from 8-430.

Posted by: JuanValdezz | February 19, 2011 8:41 AM | Report abuse

If we do telework, all sorts of people will complain that government workers just "dial it in."

Posted by: kevin9 | February 20, 2011 12:00 AM | Report abuse

Once you leave HQ and its delicious location within the Beltway, telework is not even mentioned, much less allowed. When I bring it up, the chiefs here in the Twin Cities look at me like I am from Mars. "That's for people who work in DC."

The private sector has done this with the snap of the fingers for over 10 years, with documented improvements in productivity, quality and employee satisfaction-- at lower cost. But career bureaucrats are far more interested in turf and expanding turf. If you're not visibly sitting there-- that means their little fiefdom has shrunk.

Conclusion: it's a leadership issue and nobody's leading, not in DHS anyway.

Posted by: TerryElliott | February 20, 2011 3:29 PM | Report abuse

For the past 12 years, my federal agency has supported telecommuting as a way to increase productivity. I was one of the fortunate few to take advantage of this, and the benefits include all those that were listed in the article above. I recently returned full-time to the office as I took a promotion to a position that requires me to be in the office. In some ways, I feel as if I've taken a pay cut when factoring gas prices, parking prices, etc. But the component not discussed above came into play for me - working at home can be somewhat isolating. While recognizing the workplace is first and foremost a workplace, the social component of interacting with co-workers and our customer base is something to be valued.

That said, management has resisted, and at times, fought expansion of a true telecommuting plan in our office out of that age-old management fear: loss of control. As in most industries, management seems more interested in wanting to supervise, and not fully trust, workers who can govern themselves in a home environment. True expansion of this across the entire federal government is probably unlikely for this reason.

Posted by: jschleip | February 22, 2011 7:43 AM | Report abuse

While it is true that many managers do not offer their employees the choice to work from home, there are some that do. Also, the Patent Office has been allowing managers and employees telework for a couple of years now. The USPTO is one of the few agencies that has led the way for employees to telework. Moreover, most employees who telework work harder from home than in the office because they do not have the constant interruptions. It also improves employee morale. My husband has been teleworking for about 8 mos. now and I have seen a remarkable improvement in his health because he is not around other people. Therefore, he's not exposed to people who are sick and spreading their germs.

Posted by: ms_carly | February 22, 2011 8:06 AM | Report abuse

I am a NAVSEA employee. The Telelwork Program is not promulgated throughout the Command. WHile I do participate, it didn't come easily and when I requested additional days -- well, that just hasn't happened as of yet. While there is an instruction that supports Telework -- it simply does not reach the employees. It seems to be in place simply to comply with the original Public Law and DoD guidance. There is a new instruction being prepared and I can only hope it will be properly implemented.

Posted by: oriondlf | February 23, 2011 9:47 AM | Report abuse

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