Teleworking: Anecdotal to Actuality

Friday - 4/23/2010, 4:00am EDT

Friday and Monday are the most popular days picked by feds who are on flex-schedules or who telework. A traffic-free long weekend is good. So if you're reading this from home, you are authorized to get back to work, walk the dog or take a coffee break with Judge Judy.

But if you are at work work (aka the office) but would prefer not to be, stick with us.

For years now, backers of teleworking have touted it as a way to do everything from prevent the spread of diseases, eliminate tardiness, improve air quality while reducing gridlock.

The downsides (if any) are seldom if ever mentioned.

Despite all the good press and political pushing, teleworking is still the exception rather than the rule in many agencies. While places like the Patent and Trademark Office make it the norm, its application is spotty government-wide. Growing, but not all that quickly.

Some folks thought the tough winter on the East Coast (DC got 30 plus inches in one shot) might convert officials who think teleworking is not such a good idea. The government-wide shutdown here, which ran several days, cost a bunch of money (one estimate was $30 million per day) though experts can't produce a firm figure.

Having the capacity for wide-spread teleworking in the event of a natural or terrorist-triggered disaster would be an obvious plus in many operations.

But some agencies and some managers continue to oppose it. When Congress tells them they must increase the number of teleworkers (and so certify to budget committees) people have been known to cook the books. We've been told of situations where employees were allowed to telework one day per year so they could be counted as part of their agency teleworking effort. There is no solid proof of that, although there are cases of people who telework one day a month being reported as part of the people-who-regularly-telecommute group.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) has been a long-time advocate of teleworking. He's used the power of the purse-string (in effect fining offending agencies via the budget process) to step up the telework process. On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Gerry Conolly (D-Va.) is advocating teleworking. He and Wolf's districts are home to the second worst commuter gridlock in the country.

The telework bill unanimously passed the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on April 15. Co-sponsors include Connolly, Wolf, and Reps. Jim Moran (D-Va.) and John Sarbanes (D-Md.). It requires agencies to designate a TMO (telework managing officer) to expand efforts, report regularly to Congress and make it part of the agency COOP (continuation of operations) program.

Connolly said the bill would require an impact statement on the benefits of increased teleworking. He said: "we need to transition from anecdotal reports to analytical data about the benefits of telework. As we move forward with a robust telework program, a study will provide us with hard data to make sure that telework is doing what we set out to achieve."

So what your odds of ever becoming a regular telecommuter? In certain jobs the answer is, probably never. But for many feds there is hope.

Got any teleworking stories (happy or horror) you'd like to share? And who out there has the longest telecommute --- as in working for an outfit in Texas but doing it from home in Colorado, D.C. or New York? Or if you have any telework nightmare stories, shoot 'em to us: mcausey@federalnewsradio.com


Nearly Useless Factoid
by Suzanne Kubota

ScientificAmerican notes: the human brain's memory storage capacity is "around 2.5 petabytes (or a million gigabytes). For comparison, if your brain worked like a digital video recorder in a television, 2.5 petabytes would be enough to hold three million hours of TV shows. You would have to leave the TV running continuously for more than 300 years to use up all that storage."


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