Telework can give employees more work/life balance and help federal agencies continue operations during emergencies. However, agencies could better measure and report on its costs/benefits.
Major emergencies, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, can pose threats to federal employees' safety. During these situations, federal agencies have a responsibility to provide an environment for employees to perform their jobs safely and effectively. Federal agencies are increasingly using telework to diminish the disruption that such emergencies may have on their ability to accomplish their missions. However, there are a number of ways that federal agencies can improve how they manage their telework programs.
The Telework Enhancement Act
The Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 was a large step forward in transforming the federal government’s approach to telework. The act required agencies to develop telework policies—such as notifying employees of their eligibility to telework and establishing telework participation goals to help measure and report results.
However, some agencies have had challenges with implementing successful telework programs.
- Managers may make telework decisions before training
- Agencies may not review telework agreements annually or document renewals
- Some supervisors discourage telework despite agency participation goals
Additionally, the Telework Act requires the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to submit an annual report to Congress addressing the telework program in each executive agency. However, OPM has faced challenges in reporting accurate agency telework data in these reports. For instance, 4 agencies—Education, General Services Administration, Labor, and Securities and Exchange Commission—all cited issues with ensuring that the employee-reported telework data they reported to OPM were accurate because employees may not know or follow policies for recording telework.
Benefits and costs of telework
Federal agencies have cited a number of benefits and costs from their telework programs. For instance, they have cited improved recruitment and retention, increased productivity, and improved work/life balance as benefits. Some costs have included increased costs for training staff and managing telework programs, and the costs of setting up the necessary IT services. However, agencies have little data to support the benefits and costs associated with their telework programs.
OPM recently reported that over a third of federal agencies were able to track some form of cost savings due to telework—a 7 point increase from FY 2017—due to things like less commuting and fewer employee absences. However, 46% of agencies continue to experience difficulty in tracking these savings. The most commonly cited barriers to assessing these savings are the unavailability of cost savings tracking systems, difficulty isolating costs associated specifically with telework, and lack of access to data.
Agencies are also exploring ways to use telework as a tool to reduce the federal footprint and use space more efficiently—such as implementing desk-sharing for employees who telework in order to relinquish leased space. However, they have reported several challenges in doing so, including human capital issues and mission suitability. The General Services Administration (GSA) provides guidance to agencies to improve space utilization, but it has not updated this guidance since 2006.
A Telework Scenario that can Increase Space Efficiency or Reduce Space