Government Agency Telework: Is It Working?
Although the federal government has for many years urged telecommuting to ease Washington’s notorious commuter traffic, the snowstorms of 2010 were the precipitating event which created the Telework Enhancement Act, requiring federal agencies to establish telework policies. Nearly a decade later, has it made a difference?
The GSA has led the way in transitioning to telework, with almost all employees scheduling desk time via a hoteling reservation system. As reported in the New York Times, the former bureaucratic cube farm has given way to the wide open look of a Silicon Valley start-up, with collaborative teams clustered together.
Following the GSA’s lead, the Department of Homeland Security, the Patent and Trademark Office, Fish and Wildlife, and the Department of Agriculture have put telework policies into action. Now that the telework policy has been operating for several years, the Office of Personnel Management’s most recent report, surveying 89 federal agencies, shows some interesting trends:
- 42% of all federal employees, or nearly one million workers, are eligible for telework.
- Situational telework (such as working at home to concentrate on a big project) is the most common type of telework, followed by regularly-scheduled telework.
- Although many agencies do not have a way to calculate the budget impact of telework, those that do track telework costs found that telework saved $30 million annually.
- Agencies had many goals for their teleworking programs, but the most often cited was real estate cost reduction.
And the real estate cost savings have added up. The Department of Homeland Security estimates savings of $55 million in leased space. Fish and Wildlife, a smaller organization, will save $3 million in rent reduction.
Telework presents challenges for any agency. Organizational culture is re-shaped when a telework policy is instituted, and open-plan offices require a new etiquette. Physical space is also re-shaped; a lack of offices and reduced overall square footage require facilities designers and managers to get creative with office furnishings. Flexibility is fundamental to a successful telework policy, and flexible furnishings fit well into the new interiors, giving agency facilities managers a variety of options in the way they use their open-plan office space. Designers are choosing flexible, adaptive workstations, mobile filing pedestals, and modular cabinetry that can be rearranged as staff comes and goes.
Digital document management is also helping with the new telework policies. Agencies’ document conversion programs and digital document procedures permit their teleworking staff to access needed information from almost anywhere.
With such significant cost savings as reported by the OPM, teleworking is here to stay for federal agencies. As more and more agencies adopt teleworking policies, adaptive furnishings are a valuable solution in real estate right-sizing.
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