Federal Workers Timid about Teleworking Opportunities

September 18, 2009 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A report by the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) found participation in telework rose in 2008, but the percentage of eligible federal employees who took advantage of the alternative work arrangement on a regular basis remained small.

According to the report, last year, 102,900 federal employees worked offsite at least once a month – an increase of 8,257 employees, or 9%, from 2007, when 94,643 employees teleworked regularly. However, the number represents only 8.6% of eligible workers and 5.2% of all federal employees, Govexec.com reported.

Thirteen percent of workers who telework said they work offsite three times a week or more, 51% do so one or two days weekly, and 36% work offsite less than once a week but more than once a month.

Forty-eight of 78 agencies that responded to the survey reported growth in telework from 2007. However, the report singled out the Health and Human Services, Interior, Transportation and Veterans Affairs departments as agencies that had substantial growth, and pointed to the Commerce, Defense, Justice and State departments as agencies with large drops in participation, the news report said.

Among smaller agencies, the Census Bureau multiplied its ranks of teleworkers from 12 to 276 employees, while the Food and Drug Administration saw its number of teleworkers fall from 891 to 364.

According to the report, 27 of 78 agencies reported cost savings/benefits as a result of telework. Of these, the greatest benefit was to morale (24 agencies), then productivity/performance and transportation (22 each), then human capital (21), according to Govexec.com.

Officials cited office coverage -- or ensuring there were enough people onsite to keep things running -- as the top barrier to telework (48 agencies). Other issues included management resistance (38), organizational culture (36), and concerns about cybersecurity and funding (both at 25).

A letter from OPM Director John Berry suggested teleworking provides an effective resource in the face of a possible flu pandemic. Forty-four of the 78 agencies surveyed, or 56%, had fully integrated telework into their continuity of operations planning.

The federal government has for years taken steps to encourage telework within its agencies (see Senate Bill Could Make All Federal Employees Eligible for Telework ), claiming it not only cuts costs for employers and employees, but helps employees balance work and family obligations, and helps the environment.

Telework Exchange, a public-private partnership for promoting telework, suggests that if everyone who could telecommute did their jobs from home twice weekly, the country could save 9.7 billion gallons of gas and $38.2 billion a year (see Group Advocates Telework to Help Employees with Commuting Costs ).

The OPM report is here .