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Telework Improvements Act of 2010 Passes, More Government Workers to Telecommute

Last Wednesday, the House Passed the Telework Improvements Act of 2010, which makes all federal employees eligible for telework, unless their manager deems them ineligible.  Employees eligible for telework will be able to work remotely for 20% of their hours, or one day per week.

However, OPM’s recently released Federal Viewpoint Survey shows that government employees are less satisfied with telework programs than in 2006 or 2008.  This year, 35.4 percent said they were at least somewhat satisfied with government telework programs, down from 38.6 percent in 2006 and 39.9 percent in 2008.

But Jessica Klement of the Federal Managers Association told Federal News Radio that most resistance to telework initiatives comes from management. “We keep hearing, time and time again, that the reason telework isn’t being rolled out on a broader scale is because of management resistance.”

She attributes this resistance to the uncomfortable situation created by an underperforming employee requesting to work remotely.  “Nobody wants to have the difficult conversation. You have an underperforming employee who squeaks by with their General Schedule raise each year who wants to telework — and the manager doesn’t know how to say [he or she] can’t telework because I don’t trust you to do your job at home.”

Resistance from management isn’t the only obstacle that has faced telecommuting in the past, though.  For example, Congress tends to view telecommuting as an employee benefit, said Jessica Klement.  “This isn’t a federal employee benefit. This is supposed to help federal government operations,” she clarified.

But teleworking can save the government millions of dollars, particularly during weather emergencies like the snowstorms that crippled Washington in January and February of this year.  The lengthy shutdowns were costly and resulted in missed deadlines, causing many in Washington, including outgoing Navy CIO Robert Carey, to advocate developing telecommuting capabilities to the fullest extent possible.

For better or for worse, more federal employees will telework next year.  Time will tell if employee satisfaction and productivity numbers will improve or get worse as a result, but at least government might not grind to a halt if the area is hit with another blizzard next winter.

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