Report: Better IT support leads to more federal telework

The capability of federal information technology professionals to support employees who work off site is increasing, and that reflects an upward trend in federal telework, according to a study released Monday.

In its second annual federal telework survey, CDW-G, a company that advises and sells computer and network systems to the government, found that 32 percent of IT professionals who responded said their agencies started or expanded telework programs in 2005. Nearly one-third of the respondents said their agencies could support 100 percent of eligible telecommuters.

Forty-one percent of the employees surveyed said they had worked off site in some capacity in 2005, and that is double from the year before. Of those, 43 percent said they started teleworking in the last year. CDW-G conducted online, telephone and in-person interviews with Washington-area employees and IT staff.

"There is strong interest in federal workers to continue to get more options to telework," said Max Peterson, vice president of federal sales at CDW-G. The study indicates that perceptions about telework are improving, with more than half of the respondents saying their supervisors and 85 percent of their peers favorably view the option.

The fiscal 2001 law overseeing appropriations for the Transportation and Treasury departments directs agencies covered under the law to establish telecommuting policies by 2004. Agencies must determine which employees are eligible to participate.

The Office of Personnel Management has monitored the implementation of such programs and has partnered with the General Services Administration to expand telework across the government.

In 2004, more than 140,000 federal employees teleworked, representing a 19 percent adoption rate among the 1.8 million employees deemed eligible, according to a December OPM report.

But the CDW-G survey revealed that security remains a challenge to continued teleworking growth. Only 39 percent of IT professionals said they have an approach to meet requirements in a federal security management law.

More than half of respondents were unsure if telework requirements hinder their ability to meet the security requirements. Roughly half of IT support staff who responded said their agencies had written IT policies in place for telework.

Only one-quarter of the IT respondents said support is an obstacle for telework growth. For those who work remotely, nearly 70 percent can receive IT support via a telephone help desk or online.

Greater IT support also is enabling advanced collaboration tools for remote workers. According to the survey, Web-based applications, audio and Web conferencing, and instant messaging are keeping colleagues in touch.

Also driving the adoption of federal telework is the investment in continuity-of-operations plans. CDW-G found that 87 percent of teleworkers said they could work off site in an emergency.

While GSA has established more than a dozen telework centers in the Washington area, nearly all employees who telecommute work from home. One percent of respondents work from a center.

"You get the maximum benefit if telework is set up so you can work from wherever you need to work from, as opposed to just giving another brick-and-mortar place to work," Peterson said.

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