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Report: 32 percent of federal employees telework

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Federal employees started learning Tuesday whether they are eligible to work from home, six months after President Obama signed legislation that expanded the use of telecommuting across the federal government.

“As far as we can tell, nearly all” federal agencies and departments started informing workers of their eligibility on Tuesday as required by the new law, said Justin Johnson, the Office of Personnel Management’s deputy chief of staff.

“There’s no one telework policy. Everyone has the freedom to develop a policy that helps them deliver their results,” he told reporters.

Legislation Obama signed last year requires federal agencies to develop policies that allow eligible employees to work remotely and to include telecommuting options in emergency contingency plans. Several government positions — including law enforcement officers, lab technicians, and medical doctors and nurses — are exempt because of the nature of the jobs.

The Obama administration and employee organizations pushed for the work-from-home option, citing potential cost savings and the environmental benefit from curtailing commutes. Unions note that the government saved about $30 million when employees worked from home during last year’s historic Washington area snowstorms.

The change in law has increased teleworking, according to a report issued Tuesday by the Telework Exchange, a group that promotes teleworking and whose members include companies that sell equipment and services for use in working remotely.

In an online survey conducted in late May of telework managing officers in agencies, 86 percent said that telework participation increased in the preceding six months.

The report also said that 32 percent of federal employees telework, counting both regular and “situational” teleworking, in which employees receive permission to work off-site on an as-needed basis.

The most recent OPM report on teleworking, however, showed that only 6 percent of all federal employees telework, as defined by having a formal agreement in place spelling out the terms of the arrangement. Separately, a survey conducted last year by the OPM showed that 22 percent of federal employees said they telework at least to some extent.

Two-thirds of telework managers said the program is making a significant positive impact on job satisfaction, but most could not say the same about productivity, performance, energy use, recruiting and retention. The main challenges to the telework program include finding ways to measure its results, drumming up management support and providing workers with the technology needed to work remotely, the report said.

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