OPM Reports Telework Rising

News Updates
Although some of America's largest companies—including Yahoo, Best Buy and Bank of America—banned or scaled back telework in 2013, a new study reveals that it’s on the rise for federal government employees.

In December 2013 the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) released the 2013 Status of Telework in the Federal Government Report to Congress, which reviewed the implementation of the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010.

According to the 258-page report, more than 1 million federal employees were eligible to telecommute in 2012, marking a 49 percent rise from the more than 680,000 who were eligible in 2011. Moreover, there was an 84 percent increase in telework agreements, with 267,227 employees signing up for telework. This resulted in 24 percent more federal employees actually teleworking in 2012 than in the previous year.

“The numbers are in line with what we are seeing with [our] programs,” said Cindy Auten, general manager of the Mobile Work Exchange, a public-private partnership that promotes the value of telecommuting. “OPM's latest data proves strong interest, momentum and value in these programs. The federal government has come a long way since we started in 2005.”

Despite the efforts of the Mobile Work Exchange, the report reveals that the most cited barrier to telecommuting in the federal workplace has been management resistance. This reluctance to embrace the concept of workers being trusted to perform their duties away from the eyes of supervisors is cultural and more often overcome with training and leadership engagement, a practice showing immediate dividends.

The report indicates a decline from 2011 to 2012 in barriers cited by agency leaders (66 percent in 2011 vs. 62 percent in 2012 among supervisors, and 61 percent in 2011 vs. 57 percent in 2012 among managers and executives).

Managers’ views about “telework is important because it sends a tacit message of support, encouraging employee participation,” the report states. Workers noted other roadblocks, including information technology, budgetary constraints and security issues.
The OPM report also provided data from the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS), for which employees described their telework participation. The survey revealed that:

• Twenty-four percent of the nearly 632,000 respondents do not telework to any degree. Some (13 percent) choose not to telework, and 35 percent are restricted from teleworking because of the demands of their job.
• Despite having “the kind of job where I can telework,” about 22 percent of respondents said they did not receive approval to do so. 

In 2013, Yahoo discontinued its long-held practice of telecommuting, citing the need to improve “communication and collaboration,” according to an interoffice memo leaked to allthingsd.com and signed by Yahoo HR Director Jackie Reese. In the memo, employees were told that in order “to become the absolute best place to work … we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices.” Electronics retailer Best Buy, praised by workplace advocates for its telecommuting program, reportedly announced in March that nonstore employees would need their supervisors’ approval to continue working remotely. Also in 2013, Bank of America said it was scaling back telework.

The 2013 OPM status report suggests that these public setbacks on the corporate level may have little to no effect in terms of the progress of the Telework Enhancement Act’s implementation on the federal level, an expert said.

“The federal government has come a long way since we started in 2005,” Auten said. “Year over year we continue to see more interest, momentum and expansion in telework. Agencies and employees are seeing the value and are making it happen.”

Leonard Webb is a freelance writer in Wyncote, Pa.

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