It's Snowing, Time for Telework

Ann All
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Six Tips on Introducing a Telework Program

Important tips to ensure your telecommuting program is a success.

A chunk of the country is getting snow dumped on it this morning, which often provides a reason for folks to telecommute, provided they have the capability. Many federal workers didn't last winter when a snowstorm essentially shut down the nation's capital for several days. While some of the federal government's 270,000 employees tried to accomplish some tasks using e-mail, phone calls, the Web and Twitter, few of them were able to really get much done since they lacked the technical and management support for true telework.


That experience last month helped ease passage of the Telework Enhancement Act, <strong>a piece of legislation that will require federal agencies to roll out telework programs</strong>,in the House of Representatives. It will become law, since corresponding legislation was approved by the Senate in September and President Obama has signaled his support.


Fellow IT Business Edge blogger Carl Weinschenk and I both write about telecommuting on a fairly regular basis, I think because both of us have teleworked for quite some time. I've spent a decade doing so for this employer and my previous one. I've worked with Carl for more than five years but have only met him once, as he's based in New York and I'm in Kentucky. We tend to name the usual benefits: enhanced employee productivity, savings through consolidation of real estate, better disaster recovery, lower use of fossil fuels and improved work/life balance for employees, which can make telecommuting programs an effective recruiting tool.


A recent Workforce Management article (free registration required) highlights the recruitment angle, citing a Deloitte Consulting survey of employees born between 1980 and 2001 in which working from home ranked 10th (14.3 percent) on a list of important factors candidates look for when selecting a job. Telecommuting even ranked higher than providing better job security (7.9 percent). A 2009 survey of chief financial officers conducted by Robert Half International Inc. found 33 percent considered telecommuting a top employment incentive for workers of any age.


The article quotes Danette Campbell, senior adviser for telework with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which has had a telecommuting program for 13 years:

Telework has a tremendous impact on employee morale because they no longer have to get in their cars and drive an hour or more to work every day. Plus, it's an important tool for attracting a younger generation of employees who expect that flexibility and greater sense of control over their lives.

Participation in the Patent Office's program has grown from 18 employees in 1997 to more than 5,600 today. When I wrote about the Telework Enhancement Act last month, a patent examiner named Kevin commented on my post:

... I gladly gave up a 150 sq. ft. window office to work from home. My stress levels dropped as if every work day was a Saturday. My sick leave use dropped quite a bit, plus I can work overtime from home. I use a lot less gas but that's offset by electricity use at home to keep the temperature comfortable all day. ...

Campbell also mentions productivity, noting an employee can still work when he has "a cold that's bad enough to stop him from coming into the office, but not bad enough to stop him from working at home." That's exactly what I did last week, putting in three days at home because I had a nasty cold. I suspect I helped my coworkers' productivity as well, by sparing them listening to my hacking cough all day. To Kevin's point about overtime, I wrote about a recent study that found telecommuters could work 19 more hours than office-bound workers before feeling work was interfering with their personal lives, which tends to make them more productive.


Kevin made some other good points as well. Telework is appropriate for him, he wrote, because examiners have a production quota and periodic reviews of their work. The job doesn't require lots of supervision or collaboration, and when necessary, collaboration can occur easily via e-mail. Again, this sounds pretty similar to the work that Carl and I (and countless other knowledge workers) do from our home offices.


Others, like sales staff, put in lots of work hours in hotel rooms and airports. Carl wrote about this just last week, saying that IT departments must understand that teleworkers are members of a varied group with differentiated needs. IT plays an important role in the successful implementation of telework programs. Kevin the patent examiner mentioned in his comment that he hopes to get a faster virtual workstation and connection to his main campus so he can enjoy a technical experience more akin to what he had at the office. Employees will quickly become frustrated if they lack the appropriate technology for telework, and security is a key concern to protect sensitive company data.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Dec 13, 2010 7:10 PM Susan Hall Susan Hall  says:

Yep, with my son's school out on a snow day today, it's great to be able to work from home.


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