The Defense Department, the largest employer of civilian federal workers, has issued a new policy requiring management to promote telework by their employees and to “make every effort to overcome artificial barriers” to off-site working.
“Telework facilitates the accomplishment of work; can serve as an effective recruitment and retention strategy; enhance DoD efforts to employ and accommodate people with disabilities; and create cost savings by decreasing the need for office space and parking facilities, and by reducing transportation costs, including costs associated with payment of transit subsidies,” the directive says.
The agency’s policy does not define “artificial barriers” to telework. But the Office of Personnel Management said in a February 2011 report on telework, as it had in past reports, that the main obstacles to off-site working include office coverage needs, organizational culture, management resistance and information technology issues.
Telework is to be authorized for the maximum number of positions possible without jeopardizing military readiness, and is to be used “to the broadest extent possible by eligible employees on a regular and recurring basis, up to and including full-time telework.,” the policy says. However, it adds that telework is not an employee entitlement, and it lays out rules for security, work schedules, performance ratings and other issues.
The policy was issued under a 2010 law designed to step up telework in the federal workplace — presuming, for example, that employees are eligible to telework unless their positions are exempt for reasons such as security requirements or the need for a physical presence at the work site.
That law also ordered other steps including additional training; OPM recently made new online courses available to employees and their managers.
That report counted only about six percent of federal employees as teleworkers, with about two-thirds of those being “regular” teleworkers, working from home or another alternate site one day a week or more. That report showed that about 2 percent of DoD employees qualify as regular teleworkers. For that report, most agencies based their telework numbers on how many employees had formal agreements with management governing such arrangements.
In recent government-wide surveys, however, about 22 percent of employees said they telework at least one or two days a month, including under informal or as-needed arrangements. DoD employees reported a lower rate of telework on average under that definition, as well.
Federal agency information technology professionals estimated in a recent survey that 21 percent of federal employees telework. That survey also said that about an equal percentage of employees can be called part-time mobile workers who connect remotely at least once every two weeks while on travel or other assignments outside the regular workplace.
OPM is aiming to release an update of its telework report in June, the Government Accountability Office recently reported. GAO said that changes in the data collection in light of the 2010 law will make the results not directly comparable to those of the prior reports.