Bill Encourages Telecommuting for Feds

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When I wrote recently about some early advocates of telecommuting that were having second thoughts about the practice, I cited an eWEEK article that mentioned HP, AT&T and some federal government agencies as among those that were reconsidering.


Security concerns appear to be a major bugaboo among the feds, as IT Business Edge blogger Carl Weinschenk wrote back in March. The number of federal telecommuters dropped by 7.3 percent between 2005 and 2006, according to a Wall Street Journal story he cites in his post.


The story included statements from an Interior Department official, who noted that some managers were nervous about hacking on home wireless networks and stolen laptops. Forty-two percent of government IT folks rate security as the top telecommuting-related worry, vs. 27 percent of private-sector IT pros, according to a CDW survey.


Yet despite these worries, the House of Representatives earlier this month passed the Telework Improvements Act, which would require agencies to create programs that allow eligible employees to spend at least 20 percent of the time teleworking, reports FCW.com. A similar Senate bill, the Telework Enhancement Act, has been approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.


A key element of the House bill, says Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, is a requirement for agencies to designate a senior-level employee as a telework managing officer. Such folks should help allay the concerns of front-line managers who worry that employees won't be productive if they work outside the office, a view Kelley calls "simply old-fashioned and outdated."


For what it's worth, I agree with Kelley. Still I understand the concerns of managers like IT Business Edge's own Ken-Hardin, who I am name-checking here since he mentions me several times in a post in which he shares A Crotchety Manager's View on Telecommuting. He writes:

Before any company, team, or manager enters into a telecommuting arrangement, all parties need to recite this mantra until it becomes an assumed part of the working relationship: Telecommuting does not mean employees get to recalculate their schedules on a day-by-day basis. Seems simple, I know, but when I've seen telecommuting blow up, it's almost always been because of this basic, but pernicious, misunderstanding.

He also offers some smart suggestions on making telecommuting work. My favorite:

Assuming they have the same responsibilities, a telecommuting employee's schedule should be no more flexible than an in-office's employee's schedule.

This tip should help with any feelings of resentment from employees that remain in the office, a problem thatI wrote about earlier this year, spotlighting a study from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute management professor Timothy Golden that found dissatisfaction among office-bound employees grew along with the number of telecommuters at a unidentified mid-size company.