The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Federal employees view telework as bright spot in their jobs

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Nearly 76 percent of respondents expressed positive views on programs allowing them to work remotely, representing the third consecutive year of improvement and a 6 percentage point increase since 2011, when the government first began tracking the practice.

Telework was one of just three categories that showed improvement in the broad employee survey. The other areas were supervisor support for work-life balance and respect from management.

Telework has been a focus of the government since 2000, when President Clinton signed a bill requiring agencies to implement that practice to the maximum extent possible without diminishing worker performance. President Obama signed follow-up legislation in 2010 that set baseline expectations for the efforts and directed the Office of Personnel Management to oversee them.

About 32 percent of the total federal workforce of 2.2 million employees — not counting the Postal Servcie — is eligible for telework under the latest law. Roughly one-quarter of those workers, or 8 percent of the total federal workforce, used that option in 2011, according to a report from OPM.

Proponents say telework provides federal employees with flexibility, helping agencies attract and retain talent. It also reduces their space needs and allows operations to continue during severe weather events such as the “Snowmageddon” storm that paralyzed much of the D.C. metropolitan region in 2010, supporters say.

Flexibility has become increasingly important for federal agencies as they look for new ways to reward employees for good work despite restrictions on performance awards.

“It becomes an attractive benefit for agencies to offer,” said Mobile Work Exchange general manager Cindy Auten, whose organization helps the government set up telework options.

The White House budget office this month limited performance awards to 1 percent of employees’ total aggregate salaries until the end of fiscal 2014, continuing a string of restrictions the Obama administration has placed on bonuses since 2010.

OPM, which conducted the survey, noted in its report on the results that federal managers have little ability to provide financial incentives for workers. It applauded them for  “using levers under their control such as workplace flexibility.”

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