We don’t often think of our government as an innovator or a first mover, and for good reason: it’s hard to move the bureaucratic behemoth nimbly enough to keep pace with the latest and greatest. But telework is an exception to that rule, largely thanks to 2010’s Telework Enhancement Act. That law requires federal agencies to identify which workers are eligible to work remotely and put in place plans to make telework available to those employees.
Since then, federal telework has surged ahead, in no small part because of the bureaucratic nature of many federal agencies—it’s easier for a desk worker to work remotely than, say, an auto mechanic, and explicitly laid out plans can keep remote workers focused. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) just submitted a report this week to Congress detailing the status of federal telework, and contained within were encouraging signs for the still-growing phenomenon. The number of federal employees with signed telework agreements—a prerequisite, according to the TEA, for remote work—nearly doubled from 2011 to 2012. What’s more, the number of employees considered telework-eligible increased a whopping 49 percent, and the number of federal workers actually teleworking jumped 24 percent.
This rise in government telework participation benefits both employees and agencies alike. According to this year’s Employee Viewpoint Survey, the vast majority of federal workers—79.3 percent—are satisfied or very satisfied with their agency’s telework program. “It was the only category—out of 84 categories—that saw year-over-year increases in satisfaction” said Cindy Auten, general manager of the Mobile Work Exchange. There was good news in this latest OPM report for agencies as well: high-frequency telework (more than 3 days a month) was up. Auten points out consistent, high-frequency telework (as opposed to ad-hoc arrangements) allows agencies to “really look at reducing a significant portion of [their] real estate. This is when agencies will start to see a significant amount of return on investment.”
In addition to saving companies and workers money (in real estate and commuting costs, respectively), telework has been shown to increase productivity, and has been linked to a variety of knock-on benefits (including stronger marriages, better mental health, lower obesity, and a more robust sense of civic duty). As we keep moving towards an economy based more on the manipulation of information than the manufacture of things, telework will have an even more important role to play. It’s good to see Uncle Sam is savvy to that fact.