As technology has made it easier to remotely connect with others, many businesses, corporations and federal agencies have made the move to allow employees to “telework” or “telecommute.” There are various reasons as to why these employers are implementing telework policies. Many cite morale and stress reasons, while others claim environmental reasons and cutting costs. Whatever the reason, teleworking has become more prevalent in work environments, which has sparked discussion about whether or not it is more or less productive for employees than traditional office operations.
The federal government has not been immune from this discussion. The question about the productivity of telework policies is of particular importance to the federal government, which is already plagued by the reputation for red tape and ineffectiveness. Now with deep cuts being made to federal agencies, teleworking is being explored even further in government operations. In a report published by the US Office of Personnel Management, as of September 2012, of over two million federal employees, 684,589 were considered eligible for telework, and 168,558 employees were participating in telework programs. Of these employees, 46,000 were teleworking three or more times a week. In a Young Government Leaders survey of 166 young federal employees, 132 were allowed to telework and 114 of them have indicated that they telework at least on occasion (86 percent of those eligible).
What does this mean for productivity? Some have criticized Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer for banning telework, citing the unstoppable force of technology and the benefits that telework provides. In YGL’s survey, 44 percent of respondents believed that teleworking improved their productivity and 5 percent believed it decreased their productivity with the rest believing it had no impact. In responding to what they thought their manager’s perception of telework was, 25 percent believed their manager thought it increased productivity and 21 percent thought their manager believed it decreased productivity. So, while the majority employees believe that it is just as effective, if not more so, than regular office interactions, there is still some reservation from management concerning its degree of effectiveness.
This could be due to gaps in age and technological familiarity between managers and employees, which can be a source of distrust in technology by managers. Another option is that managers don’t communicate their support and trust with employees who telework. A third scenario is that government managers have yet to set appropriate and effective ways to measure teleworking performance. Finally, it may be up to the employee to communicate with their manager about how their performance has not changed and make a conscious effort to demonstrate that productivity. The same methods to measure in-office performance may not be as useful when evaluating employees from home. Thinking carefully about how one manages and communicates with employees who telework is critical for this arrangement to benefit the employee and his or her agency.
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