Earlier this year, the U.S. Congress dealt another blow to federal teleworking policies by rejecting the federal teleworking bill (H.R 1722). Although the bill has since been re-passed through the House and the senate has said they are working on a compromise with the House, nothing is certain to this point. At the surface, questions as to how to best implement telework policies in the federal government have seemed significant enough to reject the bill: how would the government come up with the estimated $30 million over the next five years that they would have to spend to implement the new telework rules? How would they be able to ensure computer security and preserve productivity of the workers outside of their offices?
Even amid these concerns, teleworking policies are getting closer and closer to becoming standard operating procedure in government offices, and the issues with teleworking policies are starting to be discredited. The excuses that once served to create barriers to teleworking are no longer realistic.
Teleworking is organically becoming a reality for government employees through recent technology innovations. Government employees have always had to work away from their offices, whether to attend industry conferences or meet with other policy makers around the U.S. and around the world, but they haven’t always traveled with technology that enables them to stay connected.
Even for government workers who don’t normally take business trips, working remotely can be a lifesaver when getting to the office becomes impossible. The extreme snowstorms in Washington, D.C., this past winter gave most of the area’s 300,000 plus federal workers up to a week off with pay, costing the government hundreds of millions of dollars. Stronger teleworking policies would be a huge assist to the government in times of extreme weather or other transportation-debilitating events.
Security concerns with federal employees can also be addressed with improvements in technology. These days we see so many government officials who use smart phones and laptops to get their work done. They rely on those mobile devices to be secure, but don’t extend that level of security to computers throughout their offices and networks. To be sure, there are some pieces of information that need to remain locked in the office, but teleworking policies could be shaped to allow a majority of employees to telework, and employees who were restricted from teleworking would be the exception.
As for the questions of productivity, there will always be the chance that employees will take advantage of their time at home to neglect their work, but we have now improved our computers, printers and software programs to the point where none of them should be a valid excuse for not being able to accomplish work tasks at home. As my colleagues discuss on this video on Fedstelework.com, IT managers could also provide services remotely to workers who have computer problems, or even set up a system to provide remote workers with new equipment by mail the next day if their equipment goes down.
Ashley Brogdon, Enterprise Communications Manager for HP Telecommuting, also discusses the cost savings of teleworking programs in the video – and although the $10,000 per employee average that it costs to operate an office would not be entirely eliminated, the cost savings might be enough to offset the cost of some extra IT equipment for that remote employee.
With all these things considered – cost savings, security improvements, continued operations in times of crisis – teleworking is coming to government agencies, with or without the congress’ blessing.