Fed managers clueless on telework, study says

Efforts to increase telework in the federal government have a long way to go. Just 35 percent of federal managers today think their agencies support telework, according to results of a survey conducted by Telework Exchange and Federal Managers Association and released Monday.

In reality, all executive agencies are required to offer eligible employees the opportunity to participate in telecommuting programs. Further, departments and agencies are required to report, each quarter, how many federal employees are participating in their telework programs.

Agencies also are required to designate a telework coordinator who’s responsible for overseeing the implementation and operation of telecommuting programs.

Despite these legislative efforts to spur increased telework, awareness remains low. Among 214 federal managers surveyed, 47 percent think their agencies don’t support telework, and 18 percent are unsure.

In addition, resistance from managers is keeping federal agencies from embracing telework as a standard operating procedure. Respondents who don’t manage teleworkers ranked fear of not having control over employees’ activities (77 percent) and productivity concerns (63 percent) as the top telework inhibitors.

On the positive side, the study reveals that as managers become more exposed to and involved in telework, their approval of the operating practice improves.

Managers who are teleworkers and managers who supervise teleworkers have a better attitude toward telework (75 percent and 63 percent favorable, respectively) than managers who do not supervise teleworkers (54 percent favorable). Among managers who manage teleworkers, 66 percent say teleworkers are as productive as their in-office counterparts.

Telework is critical to agencies’ business-continuity plans and productivity, as well as recruiting and retaining a high-quality workforce, says Joel Brunson, president of the federal division at Tandberg, which provides visual communication products and services and underwrote the “Face-to-Face with Management Reality” study.

One way to increase telework is to encourage managers to telework and give them the education they need to understand telework drivers and benefits, Brunson says. Another step that could help is to universally define what an eligible employee is — federal agencies today can define eligibility at their own discretion, he says. He also recommends agencies highlight their telework success stories and spread the word about benefits such as reduced real estate costs and better work/life balance for employees. “Lead with the carrot,” Brunson says.

Telework Exchange is a public-private partnership focused on telework in the federal government, and FMA is an association representing the interests of 200,000 federal managers.

Telework laws on the books pertain to executive agencies in the federal government, which include the departments of State, Treasury, Defense, Justice, Interior, Labor, Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Energy, Education, Veterans’ Affairs, General Services Administration, Office of Personnel Management, Small Business Administration, Social Security Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Postal Service.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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