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Telework Center

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Is there a dark side to telecommuting?

Posted on: Monday 8/8/2011 6:09pm

We hear a lot about the benefits of telework but George Mason University Professor Stephen Ruth says there's reason to be cautious as well. Ruth has written a draft chapter for an upcoming book about potential challenges that could arise as more people are added to the telecommuting ranks.

As federal agencies and companies allow more and more people to telework, Ruth questions whether all of them should be eligible. He warns that not all people are made out for teleworking - including those who are easily distracted.

"Telecommuting gains so far have been leveraged through a relatively small number of highly capable people-the work place's most talented and diligent individuals are the ones who are telecommuting 3-5 days per week," Ruth wrote. "As more employees clamor to be added, there may be some new challenges. Is there a limit to telecommuting growth, a level where the practice begins to yield lower returns to the employer?"

Some other potential challenges Ruth sees:

  • Time banditry - the idea that employees will engage in more activities that are unrelated to their jobs if they are working outside the office.
  • Loneliness - Ruth says working away from the office could have several side effects including a lack of social interaction with coworkers and assumed threats to career advancement.
  • Detachment issues - Ruth points to studies that indicate the more someone telecommutes, the more problems they have stepping away from their work at the end of the day. In turn, Ruth says this could lead to an increase in the person's family stress level.

Assuming telecommuters are in the office for at least a few days a week, Ruth also questions whether a teleworker can be as productive in the office as they are outside of it. In addition, Ruth warns of resentment from the workers who are unable to telework.

Why aren't more people teleworking?

Posted on: Monday 8/1/2011 6:11am

Approximately 50 million people in the United States "who want to work from home hold jobs that are telework compatible," according to a recent report by the Telework Research Network. But, only about three million of them currently do. Why the disconnect? Why aren't more people teleworking?

Various theories have been offered recently by people inside and outside of government.

Federal Computer Week recently asked its readers how their agencies are implementing the Obama administration's Telework Enhancement Act. As one might expect, they received mixed reviews.

Some readers said telework is shunned by management at their agencies. Feds wrote in with stories of "control freak" managers who discourage telework in an effort to keep a watchful eye on employees at all times. Others said they believed management was discouraging telework to keep themselves relevant.

"You think maybe it's because of the threat of the elimination that telework would cause middle management, whose sole reason for existing is to constantly count heads and watch clocks to see if somebody came in five minutes late and write them up?" wrote one FCW reader.

For all of the federal workers who want to telework but can't (or don't) there are others who choose not to work outside the office. A recent article in The Atlantic says this choice is more psychological.

For one, Derek Thompson writes, people worried about losing their jobs (especially in hard economic times) feel that being in the office gives them an advantage. Then, there are the people who genuinely like the office.

"I could have called Ted and written these paragraphs from my couch, or the coffee shop across the street from my apartment. Instead, I chose to walk 15 minutes through the tropical heat because ... well, I like my colleagues. I like my desk. I like that it is not the same table where I eat dinner and find funny YouTube videos with my roommates," Thompson said about his own choice not to telework.

The Telework Research Network expects the number of teleworkers to grow about 69 percent by 2016. If the past is any indication of the future, many of them could be in government. The number of federal teleworkers grew 400 percent between 2005-2009.

More guidance needed for emergency telework plans

Posted on: Sunday 7/24/2011 5:53pm

Agencies need more "coordinated guidance" when it comes to incorporating telework into their emergency planning efforts, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

While the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 required agencies to include telework policies in their continuity of operation plans, GAO found agencies lack a definition of what "inclusion" means. The government watchdog also said there is not a "cohesive set of practices that agencies could use to achieve this type of incorporation."

The Office of Personnel Management, the General Services Administration, FEMA, and the Federal Protective Service are the lead agencies responsible for developing telework and telework-related emergency guidance. While these agencies have issued regulations, directives, and other documents with information on developing emergency telework plans, GAO said the guidance is often packaged within larger documents, making it harder to find. It also said agencies need to do a better job cross-referencing telework information that could help agencies.

While 57 of 79 agencies told OPM in a 2009 survey that telework had been integrated into their emergency preparedness/COOP plans, the GAO report pointed out a flaw with the question and recommended OPM improve its data collection process.

"OPM's survey instrument does not describe what OPM means by ‘integrating' telework into emergency or continuity planning and operations … This lack of a definition or description calls into question the reliability of the survey results for assessing agencies' progress."

GAO also said OPM and the other lead telework agencies need to do a better job incorporating other key players that make telework possible, like the IT community.

"Despite the importance of agency IT capacity to support telework during emergencies, OPM and GSA did not work together, as outlined in their MOU [memorandum of understanding], to reach out to the CIO community regarding potential agency capacity limitations," the GAO report said in reference to the updated dismissal guide released by OPM in December. "At the time of development of the new policy, each of the OPM and GSA officials responsible for coordinating on the MOU did not recognize the opportunity to involve the CIO community."

GAO made multiple recommendations to OPM including, developing a "definition and cohesive set of practices for incorporating telework into emergency and continuity planning" and "establish[ing] an interagency coordination process for guidance."

OPM agreed with GAO's recommendations.

Loosecubes offers new options for teleworkers

Posted on: Monday 7/18/2011 1:31am

Many teleworkers today either work from home or work in office space designed for their specific agency or company. But is there another option? Loosecubes thinks so. The website acts as a gathering place for teleworkers interested in finding a workspace that fits their individual needs.

According to the company's website, "We connect members with an empty desk, studio or sofa with other members who need a productive and inspiring place to work."

So, how does it work? There's two parts, really - those trying to find a location to work and those offering a space where someone can work. The site calls these people "coworkers" and "hosts," respectively. Coworkers can search the website for available teleworking locations the hosts have made available. (Most hosts post pictures and information of their worksites on Loosecubes.)

It's then up to the potential coworker and host to decide if a relationship would work.

Currently, it is free to post and search for workspaces on the site. Each worksite charges varying amounts for the use of their teleworking space. (The site posts these prices as well.)

Loosecubes was created in 2010. It is now in 47 countries and 355 cities, according to its website.

While this technique may not work for government now due to security restrictions, is this something that could be seen in the future?

Telework gaining steam, report says

Posted on: Monday 7/11/2011 6:25am

Telework is growing faster in the federal government than any other sector of the American workforce. From 2005 - 2009, the number of federal employees working at home grew over 400 percent. That's one of the findings from the new State of Telework in the U.S. report conducted by the Telework Research Network.

According to the report, 3.2 percent of federal employees were teleworking by 2009, up from just 0.7 percent in 2005. However, that's just a fraction of the number of feds able to telework, according to the data.

"By the government's own count, while 61 percent of the two-million federal workers were considered eligible for telework, only about 100,000, or 5.2 percent, of them did."

Of the 2.9 million Americans telecommuting in 2009, over 153,000 of them were federal employees. While the number of federal workers teleworking may be growing, they represent only 5.2 percent of the total number of teleworkers in the U.S.

And while the number of teleworkers may seem high, the report says many more are eligible.

"50 million U.S. employees who want to work from home hold jobs that are telework compatible."

Overall, teleworking grew 61 percent between 2005 and 2009 according to the report. Assuming no growth acceleration, the group estimates by 2016 there will be 4.9 million teleworkers in the U.S. "Management fear and mistrust" is seen as one of the biggest barriers to growing this number.

One of the biggest benefits the group sees to more telework , is the reduction in gas consumption. Those who telework now help save 390 million gallons a year.

The report was put together using government data from the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as well as information from a WorldatWork special report. Only employees who worked at home or away from the office, and were not self-employed, were examined for this report.

'Gizmo' helps determine telework eligibility

Posted on: Monday 7/4/2011 1:31am

Are you eligible to telework? Federal agencies were supposed to inform employees of their telework status by the beginning of June. But, if you still aren't sure, the Telework Exchange wants to help.

It has released the Online Eligibility Gizmo - a free quiz, of sorts, users can take to determine whether "you and your position are a fit for telework."

The gizmo starts by asking the user whether he is a federal employee or not. Next, the user is asked a series of questions about his work requirements and habits. For example, "My performance ratings are based on my work output" and "I work with classified information on a daily basis." Based on the responses to these questions, the gizmo calculates a "telework eligibility rating" and gives the user reasons why telework would or wouldn't be a good option for them.

Users must submit their name and email address before the gizmo will check their eligibility. Users can also choose to receive an email of their telework profile or a "complete business case" explaining why telework could benefit them.

What makes a great teleworker

Posted on: Monday 6/27/2011 3:30am

If you could boil what it takes to be a good teleworker down to three essential skills, what would they be?

You don't have to. WebWorkerDaily's done it for you! Here are the top "three skills that enable remote work success" according to author Darrell Etherington, with excerpted comments:

  1. Wide-ranging technical knowledge and experience. - "The key is that they understand fundamentals well enough that if they are thrown into a brand new computing environment with unfamiliar hardware or software, they can hit the ground running and quickly get up to speed. The best tool is the one you have with you, and the best handyman is the one who can wield any tool."

  2. Independently motivated. - "In many remote work situations, the only taskmaster you'll have will be yourself, so if you're good at digging in and getting stuff done, it's your time to shine."

  3. Excellent communication skills. - "You need to find employees that can communicate effectively in a variety of electronic media without becoming a productivity drag by unnecessarily requesting too much attention. It's a surprisingly thin line to tread."

You can read the entire article on

Three quick telework factoids

Posted on: Monday 6/20/2011 3:30am

"Numbers don't lie," according to the old chestnut. Then again, Benjamin Disraeli is thought to have said, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."

Either way, numbers about telework have been popping up lately. Here are three:

  • 100% - All agencies have now met the deadlines set in the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010. In a news release, OPM Director John Berry said, "We are learning how to best use telework for our many different types of missions and work environments and spreading those lessons from agency to agency." Over the coming weeks, says the release, telework-eligible employees and their supervisors will then determine what kind of telework is best for their mission, varying from occasional to entirely mobile.

  • 50% - The number of workers at GSA who telecommute at least one day a week. In a GSA blog, Administrator Martha Johnson said at a recent roundtable she "learned that GSA is facing some of the same challenges as our private sector partners, and heard several innovative and inspiring solutions."

  • #1 - How Atlanta placed top cities for telework in a recent survey by Microsoft of of information workers. "Part of this can be explained by Atlanta's growing position as a telecom and IT gateway to the Southeastern U.S., so these type of jobs naturally lend themselves to telework. Information workers in Georgia's most populous city work at home five days a month -- one day more than the national average," reports Rounding out the top ten (in order) are: Dallas, Phoenix, Seattle, Denver, Boston, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Houston, and Minneapolis.

BRAC move inspires a prize-winning telework program

Posted on: Monday 6/13/2011 3:30am

Facing a BRAC-related move from Bolling Air Force Base to Fort Meade, Maryland, the Air Force Central Adjudication Facility (AFCAF) turned to telework, and telework has answered the call.

After a year of working to create a more telework-friendly environment, all of AFCAF's 155 employees are now equipped and trained to telework, and 65 percent of them do so on a regular basis.

The number of employees who telework regularly went from 40 in April 2010 to 100 in March 2011 - with more than 90 percent of these employees teleworking nine out of 10 days in a two-week period. The need to be physically present in the office was eliminated by the use of collaboration tools for staff calls, trainings, and meetings. Once the tools were in place, 100 percent of teleworkers have reported improved communication with their supervisors. Productivity increased 55.62 percent in just one year.

Perhaps best of all for the agency, AFCAF has been able to retain 92 percent of its highly-trained security specialists during the BRAC move, and of them, 92 percent of employees say the Telework Program is the main reason for staying with the agency after the BRAC move,

Last week, AFCAF was awarded the 2011 Telework Exchange Tele-Vision Awards for New Telework Initiative.

For more on the awards, see the 2011 Telework Exchange Tele-Vision Awards Program webpage.

Snowmageddon without the snow

Posted on: Monday 6/6/2011 3:30am

Last week's power outages put telework to the COOP test for the first time since Snowmageddon.

The outages affected work at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the ATF, GSA and others. The federal buildings are located within about half a mile of each other.

NextGov reports about 50 emergency personnel at FERC worked from home or an alternate site on Wednesday. An agency spokeswoman said "some" of the more than 1,100 nonemergency employees also teleworked, but it isn't clear yet how many weren't able to make that happen and will take administrative leave instead.

ATF estimated a "couple of hundred" employees were telecommuting Wednesday, but wouldn't know for sure how many until the building re-opened. A spokesman told NextGov some employees had to go into the office in the morning to pick up laptops and other devices that would allow them to telework. (Remember this point, as it's sure to come up again in the future.)

When the power was restored, then failed again, by Thursday morning GSA closed offices for a second day and asked employees to telework or use alternate work spaces.

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