Federal Managers Slow to Adopt Telework Policy

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Nearly half of federal managers, or 47-percent, believe their agencies do not support telecommuting, despite a governmentwide policy adopted by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) and support from the administration and Congress, according to a new study by the Federal Managers Association (FMA) and Telework Exchange. Only 35-percent of managers surveyed believe their agencies support telework, and nearly half do not support the policy. Managers ranked fear of not having control over employees and productivity issues as the top reasons for not supporting telework.

Thirty-two percent of federal managers rate a lack of face-to-face contact as the number-one telework communication challenge, the study says. A majority of managers – 61-percent – have misinterpreted co-workers through e-mail.

About 19-percent of eligible federal employees, or about 141,000 workers, telecommuted in 2004, according to the latest data from the government's Office of Personnel Management, Reuters reports, although 41-percent of government employees were eligible.

Sixty-six percent of managers who manage teleworkers said that they are as productive as their in-office counterparts. All managers agree that the telecommuting option is an important tool for retention and for recruiting new employees.

“The study highlights the disconnect between the perception of telework and the practicality of telework,” said Darryl Perkinson, national president, FMA.

Bush administration officials and members of Congress have urged federal agencies to allow employees to work from home one day a week or to work at one of the 14 regional General Services Administration telework sites, the Washington Post reports. They argue that telework eases congestion and provides flexibility in times of crisis.

Additional support has come from a recent ruling by the General Accounting Office that agencies “may use appropriated funds to install telephone lines and necessary equipment, and to pay monthly charges, in any private residence of an employee who has been authorized to work at home,” govtech.net reports.

Federal agencies that have embraced the policy include the Patent and Trademark Office which sought the ruling that permits reimbursement for Internet access. “Telework is a critical part of managing the 21st century workplace, both in the private sector and within the federal government, and GSA recognizes the importance of alternative workplace arrangements,” . . . said Acting Associate Administrator of Governmentwide Policy, Kevin Messner. “We are pleased that our governmentwide policy allowing payment for at-home Internet access for teleworkers was upheld in an independent assessment by GAO.”

A survey of 200 federal technology officials last year found that nearly 40-percent were concerned about security, the Washington Post says. But the Telework Exchange survey of all managers in every agency showed that only 21-percent of those managers who were themselves telecommuting, were concerned about security issues compared with 43-percent of managers who had no telecommuters.

The GSA announced earlier this week that it expects to issue detailed policy governance on telework technology issues including information on technology security later this year.

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