Teleworking in the Public Sector: A Four-Part Series to Help Federal Managers Implement New Requirements by Congress for Enabling 100 Percent of Eligible Agency Employees to Telecommute by 2004. (the Evolving Workplace)

By West, Harriet | The Public Manager, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

Teleworking in the Public Sector: A Four-Part Series to Help Federal Managers Implement New Requirements by Congress for Enabling 100 Percent of Eligible Agency Employees to Telecommute by 2004. (the Evolving Workplace)


West, Harriet, The Public Manager


This is the first of a four-part series on the practical application of teleworking in the public sector. Teleworking, or flexiplace, means enabling employees to work at or closer to home during their normal work hours. Some managers believe this flexible work arrangement is intended solely to make life easier for employees. However, there are many well-documented employer benefits related to recruitment and retention, increased employee satisfaction and performance, reduced absenteeism, and reduced facility costs.

Telework in the Federal Government

The International Telework Association and Council (ITAC) reports that the number of US teleworkers reached nearly 24 million in 2000, a 20 percent increase over 1999 levels. While an estimated 12 percent of the nation's workforce was teleworking in 2000, a report from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) showed that less than three percent of federal employees were teleworking in early 2001--albeit up from half that level in 1998. This low utilization rate is apparently not due to a lack of interest by federal workers. A survey conducted by the Merit System Protection Board in 2000 showed that 47 percent of federal employees surveyed indicated teleworking was important to them personally, yet only 20 percent indicated that it was available to them at work.

Despite these low statistics, there are many examples of sound telework programs in the federal government. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments has presented its annual telework award to federal agencies for four consecutive years. Recipients include the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (1998), USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (1999), the Department of Labor (2000), and the Department of Commerce's Patent and Trademark Office (2001).

Federal legislation enacted in 2000 should drastically increase the availability of teleworking as an option for federal workers. Public Law 106-346, Section 359, instructs federal agencies to remove barriers to telework and increase actual participation, establish eligibility criteria, and allow interested employees who meet eligibility criteria (including satisfactory performance criteria) to telework. OPM is responsible for ensuring that these requirements are applied to 100 percent of the federal workforce over a four-year period (by 2004).

Telework statistics are harder to come by for state and local governments, but Arizona, California, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia are examples of state governments that have implemented telework programs for their employees. And, local elected officials in the metropolitan Washington region have established a goal for 20 percent of the region's workforce to telework by 2005.

Creating a Successful Telework Program

Providing a flexible work environment is the trend in today's highly competitive global economy, especially in areas of high demand like the information technology field. But like any other major program initiative, creating a successful telework program requires advance planning and coordination. This is especially important for programs like teleworking that may result in significant changes to the way the organization functions on a day-to-day basis.

The first article in this series, "Assessing Your Organization's Readiness for Teleworking," provides a starting point for developing your organization's telework program. John Edwards' article provides a step-by-step process to help managers complete a self-assessment of their organization's readiness for teleworking based on organizational culture and needs, the performance review and feedback process, the nature of the work performed, and employee and supervisor characteristics. Managers can use the information gathered through the self-assessment process to craft a program that meets the organization's needs.

Future articles will provide case study examples of public sector organizations that have implemented successful telework programs. …

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