Workers Staying off the Road and on the Job

Loudoun County employee Angela Brown works from home three days a week.
Loudoun County employee Angela Brown works from home three days a week. (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
By Jonathan Mummolo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 14, 2007

For Mike Marzullo, one of the best parts about his commute is not having to worry about getting in an accident while attempting to drive and drink coffee. That's because his new office is his home -- twice a week, anyway.

Marzullo, a senior buyer in Loudoun County's procurement office, is among the 14.4 percent of county government employees (excluding public safety workers) who are "teleworking" -- working from an alternate location at least one day a week using cellphones and laptop computers.

"I get a lot more work done. I spend a lot less time on the road," said Marzullo, who lives in West Virginia, 71 miles from Leesburg. "It's seamless. People don't even know I'm home sometimes."

Last week, Loudoun received a Tele-Vision award from Telework Exchange, an Alexandria-based group that works with government officials and IT professionals to promote teleworking across the country.

Although the practice is not suited to all jobs -- police officers and firefighters can't work from their living room sofas -- it is increasingly being seen by government officials as a way to alleviate traffic congestion and pollution, save on office expenses and attract and retain employees.

Officials said there is a particularly strong need for teleworking in Loudoun, where many county employees enjoy rural life in the west (but dread a long commute) and an influx of residents and congestion continues in the east.

"I think in a lot of ways it was a no-brainer for a place like Loudoun," said Karen Jackson, director of the Virginia Office of Telework Promotion and Broadband Assistance.

Jackson said her agency views telework programs in Loudoun and Fairfax counties as models for the state. Of the roughly half of Fairfax employees eligible to telework, 23.5 percent are participating in the county's program, which began in 1995, county officials said.

"The percentages that [Fairfax and Loudoun] have, the tenacity that they have shown through the years, the fact that they have dedicated people leading the program -- all those things make them models for other communities and the commonwealth," Jackson said.

In Loudoun, the temporary post of telework coordinator was established last year and assumed by Diane O'Grady, formerly of MCI. County Administrator Kirby M. Bowers said that when O'Grady's term expires in January, county officials will decide whether to make the post permanent.

"Once we have the program operational, and it becomes part of the way we do business in Loudoun County . . . whether we'll need a full-time support position -- that's yet to be determined," Bowers said.

In the meantime, O'Grady is pushing for 20 percent of Loudoun workers to be teleworking by the end of the year. To expand the program, the county recently began equipping building inspectors with laptops in the field, which helps eliminate trips back to the office to file paperwork.

Loudoun employees have shown signs of increased satisfaction. Last year, the retention rate among teleworkers in Loudoun was 10.4 percent higher than in the county government as a whole, O'Grady said.

"Very few teleworkers leave the county," she said. "[Teleworking] is a privilege that they value, and it helps keep them here."

For county employees such as Angela Brown, a bonds management specialist in the county's building and development department who teleworks three days a week from her Purcellville home, the perks go beyond savings in gas and time spent in gridlock.

"I get to spend more time with my daughter because I can be there when she gets home from school," Brown said. "And I can get a lot more work done at home. There's very few interruptions. I'm here by myself all day, with the exception of the dog and cats."

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