Federal Telework Mandate Gets Congressional OK

Carl Weinschenk
Slide Show

Telecommuting's Powerful Benefits

More than 34 million Americans telecommute on an occasional basis at the least. While it may not be for everyone, the future of telework appears bright.

The federal government always has been at the forefront of efforts to push telecommuting. Those efforts took a significant step forward last week as legislation that would make it mandatory that telework be rolled out across the government passed the House by a 254-152 vote. The initiative will become law, since corresponding legislation was approved by the Senate in September and President Obama has signaled his support the law, according to eWeek.


The benefits of the telework are many: It sets the stage for effective disaster recovery/business continuity in the event of long-term emergencies such as pandemics; it encourages a healthy work/life balance; it is green because it cuts down on travel and resulting pollution. It is not a coincidence that telework is popular with the federal government, which is concentrated in Washington, D.C., an area notorious for its horrendous rush hour traffic.


There are intuitive and often assumed advantages and disadvantages to telework. Two university researchers-from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Northwestern University-recently released research trying to qualify that common wisdom.


The researchers found that folks who telecommute three or more times per week enjoy better family relationships. They also found that being removed from office communications-which is one of the biggest supposed drawbacks to telecommuting-didn't emerge as a problem. While workers reported exchanging information with co-workers less frequently, they didn't miss important corporate information. The workers also avoided typical office pitfalls, including office politics and excessive interruptions and meetings. The research was published in the Journal of Applied Communications Research and reported upon by UPI.


Martha Johnson, the administrator for the General Services Administration, spoke in October to the Telework Exchange. She highlighted how telecommuting could help employees (especially the worker in New York who commutes three hours a day each way). There is a reduction in monthly fuel usage by average federal workers from $138 to $55.52. That is just the tip of the iceberg. Said Johnson:

GSA's analytics on telework show that, depending on the size of the program, there is a 200 percent to 1,500 percent return on the initial technological investment after adopting a telework system, thanks to increased productivity, reduced absenteeism, lower real estate costs and reduced recruitment and retention needs.

Implementing telework is not a small step, and itmust be planned carefully. This long feature at Federal Computer Week discusses four keys to successful implementation of a telework or telecommuting program. The story looks at these issues from the perspective of the feds. Of course, the issues are important across the board. The story can be used as a template for identifying important things to consider. The first point is to make sure off-site employees have the right equipment. The second section looks at secure connections (Sue Marquette Poremba took a look at this issue at Network Security Edge), the third at creating proper policies and the last at proactive training.


Telework is green, saves money, soothes employees' nerves and is helpful when a lot of snow falls or unexpected events keep people from work. And, in a short time, it will be a top internal priority of the federal government.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Nov 22, 2010 2:23 AM Kate Lister Kate Lister  says:

Like you say, the benefits of telework are extensive.

Based on assumptions from a 2006 study commissioned by the U.S. General Services Administration (conducted by Booz Allen) and over 250 other studies, the Telework Research Network estimates that if those eligible employees who wanted to work from home did so just one day a week:

Agencies would:

- Increase productivity by over $4.6 billion each year - equivalent to 26,000 man years of work

- Save $850 million in annual real estate, electricity, and related costs

- Save $2.3 billion in annual absenteeism

- Save $3.1 billion in annual employee turnover

- Improve continuity of operations

- Improve work life balance and better address the needs of families, parents, and senior caregivers.

- Avoid the brain drain' effect of retiring boomers by allowing them to work flexibly

- Be able to recruit and retain the best people

- Offer fuller employment for disabled workers, rural residents, and military families

Federal Employees would:

- Achieve a better work-life balance

- Save $800-$2,700/year in transportation and work-related expenses

- Collectively save 114 million gallons of gas / year

- Suffer fewer illnesses

The Nation would:

- Save almost 6 million barrels and $465 million in imported oil

- Reduce greenhouse gases by 1 million tons/year-the equivlient of taking 193,000 cars off the road

- Reduce road travel by 2.3 billion miles/year

- Reduce road congestion thereby increasing productivity for non-teleworkers as well

- Save over 1,900 people from traffic-related injury or death each year and save $234 million a year in related costs

- Improve emergency responsiveness

- Reduce pollution from road work and new office construction

- Preserve open spaces

- Alleviate the strain on our crumbling transportation infrastructure

- Reduce terrorism targets of opportunity

The government savings per telecommuter would total over $7,300/participant per year. Across all new telecommuters that would save $15 billion a year!

Nov 22, 2010 2:26 AM Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk  says: in response to Kate Lister

Thanks, Kate. That's quite a list. Written from my home office....


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