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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).

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. We will examine organizational objectives to be achieved through teleworking, review telework policies and procedures, summarize the program implementation process, and determine how effective the program has been. Each installment will also include a list of telework resources. This series is designed to demystify teleworking and enable public sector managers to avoid the pitfalls and realize the benefits that teleworking can provide to their organizations and employees.

Telework Resources

International Telework Association and Council (ITAC)

ITAC is a nonprofit organization that studies, develops, and recommends tools, techniques, and processes that promote the benefits of telework. Also, the organization conducts an annual conference and awards program. ITAC's Blue Ribbon Panel completed its mission on Telework America Day, October 24, 2000, with the publication of the "e-Work Guide: How to Make Telework Work for Your Organization." The 100-page guide consists of recommended practices from telework experts who served on the panel covering chapters on: costs and benefits of implementing telework, program management, human resources management in the remote work environment, legal and employment issues, environmental and facilities concerns, and information technology considerations. The guide also includes a comprehensive survey of 352 managers in organizations that sponsor telework programs. The American Management Association in cooperation with ITAC conducted the survey. (http://www.telecommute.org)

GSA /OPM Interagency Telework/Telecommuting Site

This site provides access to guidance on teleworking issued by both agencies, a list of telework centers and agency telework coordinators, examples of agency policies, frequently asked questions, news and information, and other resources. (http://www.telework.gov)

Second Annual Washington Area Conference on Telework (WA COT)

On Tuesday, October 23, 2001, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG), the ITAC, the Mid-Atlantic Teleworking Advisory Council (MATAC), and the District of Columbia Government will co-sponsor the second annual Washington area conference on telework--WACOT. This conference will focus on important objectives regarding the development and promotion of telework and virtual work in the Washington metropolitan region. Telework solutions will address such issues as traffic congestion, work-life balance, hiring and retaining a workforce, and air quality.

WACOT is designed to help public and private sector employers meet the goal of 20 percent of the region's workforce teleworking by 2005. Research conducted by COG in 1998 showed that approximately 12 percent of the region s workforce teleworked one or more days per week. WACOT is designed to help close that gap. The conference will include presentations by senior officials from the state of Maryland and the commonwealth of Virginia regarding telework resources available to employers in their jurisdictions. Congressional leaders and senior federal officials will discuss plans for the implementation of recent federal telework legislation. The conference will include two tracks, one for the government sector and one for the enterprise sector. Breakout sessions will feature presentations on managing remote teams, information technology issues, and case studies. A vendor showcase will feature services and products enabling telework.

WACOT sessions will emphasize two primary issues: the cost-benefits of telework and overcoming management resistance. Presenters will provide an analysis of the cost-benefits of telework within corporate America and the government. And, whether it is through tax credits or other incentives, governments will increasingly be offering creative and effective programs to help telework gain an even larger foothold in all enterprises. Be it public or private sector, management is often uncomfortable with teleworking because of the necessary changes to management style, policies, and procedures. WACOT will provide solutions to equip those managers, unfamiliar with techniques and protocols for managing remote workers, with the skills necessary for success. WACOT will also serve as the national capstone event for ITAC 's "Telework America Week," an annual national event. Telework America is a national initiative to encourage the adoption of telework programs across the country. ITAC will release its latest research fin dings at WACOT.

October 23, 2001 will see the joining together of important leaders of both the public and private sectors, as both presenters and participants, with the common goal of helping to increase the number of teleworkers in the Washington metropolitan region. For more information or to register, visit http://www.wacot.org.

Harriet West is a senior consultant with Clifton Gunderson LLP's (CG) public management consulting group. She specializes in helping public sector organizations implement successful telework programs. Prior to joining CG, she headed up the regional telework initiative on behalf of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.
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Author:West, Harriet
Publication:The Public Manager
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Sep 22, 2001
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