Government Agency Telework: Is It Working?

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:

  1. 42% of all federal employees, or nearly one million workers, are eligible for telework.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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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The Move from Paper to Digital: Weighing the Costs

The Move from Paper to Digital: Weighing the Costs

Cost-benefit analyses are frequently a cure for insomnia – read a page or two and you’re fast asleep. But in fact, we’re constantly performing these analyses in everyday decision-making. At this very moment you might be considering the deliciousness of a pumpkin cranberry muffin vs. an extra hour on the elliptical.

As everyone who has ever tried to lose a few pounds will testify, enthusiasm can cloud a cost-benefit analysis. (That yummy muffin can be worked off in only 15 minutes, right?) For the past few years, the federal government has been quite enthusiastic about switching from paper documents to digital records. Now at least one agency, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), is taking a strictly impartial look at the costs and the benefits of their transition to digital documents.

As the nation’s recordkeeper, NARA is in charge of storing a wide range of documents, everything from the Declaration of Independence to historical photographs, correspondence, and even a few designs for flying saucers. For many years the agency maintained vast “filing farms” where all these paper documents were stored and retrieved as needed.

The advent of email spurred the development of e-document archives and document conversion policies, with NARA leading the way as the federal government’s document storage experts. Now NARA is reviewing the costs and benefits of digital document storage, and guiding other agencies in their own document conversions and management. In an interview by FederalNewsNetwork.com, Lisa Haralumpus, NARA’s director of records management and outreach, reports that transitioning to digital documents doesn’t necessarily save money in direct costs, but there are significant indirect cost savings to be found.

For their fellow agencies, the National Archives has devised a handy digital conversion cost-benefit analysis guide that covers recurring costs such as IT staff and software costs, and non-recurring costs like hardware purchases and consultant services. Benefits include the value of document authenticity, speed of retrieval, and decreased physical storage costs. Haralumpus also recommends that agencies look for ways to share storage services to lower their costs even further.

It’s worth mentioning that this cost-benefit analysis guide isn’t only for governmental agencies. It can just as easily be applied to non-governmental organizations looking for ways to lower their document management and storage costs. But for public sector and private sector alike, a solid cost-benefit analysis is the start of the decision-making process, whether you’re deciding on document conversion or muffins.

 

Photo © Drobot Dean / AdobeStock