Merit board advises equal treatment for teleworkers and office employees

Federal agencies should take care to treat teleworkers and nonteleworkers equally, according to a recent report from the Merit Systems Protection Board.

The report, which the quasi-judicial independent agency released to President Obama and Congress, identifies the proven benefits of teleworking and advocates for the practice to be widely implemented. Among the board's findings: Teleworking improves employee work-life balance, reduces the need for physical office space and real estate costs, and enhances an organization's intangible relationships with employees through increased recruitment and retention.

"The benefits of telework can occur while maintaining productivity and performance, if telework is managed appropriately," board chairwoman Susan Tsui Grundmann stated in her introductory letter.

Federal agencies such as the General Services Administration have taken steps in the past few months to improve their teleworking policies, but many supervisors remain skeptical of the practice because of concerns about worker responsiveness and productivity.

The report recommended that agency leaders approach telework with the appropriate mind-set to prepare for the culture changes associated with the practice. It also recommends that supervisors give comparable assignments and maintain similar expectations for teleworkers and nonteleworkers.

The board emphasized that teleworking employees should be able to produce the same quality and quantity of work from home as they would from their office. To accomplish this goal, the report stated, employees should have an adequate home office setup and remain fully engaged in their performance even when outside the range of physical supervision.

For the report, the board surveyed 20,000 federal employees and supervisors, 9,000 of whom met the study's completion requirements. Of the regular teleworkers who were surveyed, 82 percent stated that the practice has had a positive effect on their work-life balance. Additionally, 82 percent said they knew how to keep working in the event of an emergency, such as a storm that prevents access to a federal office, whereas only 68 percent of nonteleworkers could say the same.

More than half the supervisors surveyed responded that telework has had a positive effect on their ability to both recruit and retain employees, with 55 percent saying it helps attract job candidates and 60 percent saying it gives them an edge on keeping employees.

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