Federal Managers Still Think Teleworkers Perform Worse, Report Finds

Federal managers often still discourage employees from teleworking, despite a mandate from Congress and individual agency guidance directing them to expand the program.

Telework has grown dramatically as a result of the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act, with 40 percent more federal employees taking advantage of the benefit in fiscal 2015 compared to three years earlier. Each agency has set goals to further increase telework, but a new Government Accountability Office report found some managers are still reluctant to fully embrace the practice.

Some supervisors are approving telework on the basis of favoritism, while others require in-person attendance for staff meetings rather than setting up videoconferencing or allowing employees to call in. Managers at times have hesitated to approve unscheduled, situational telework based on certain events such as weather, GAO found, and some simply limit the number of days of telework allowed. Generally speaking, managers who do not fully support telework believe it “contributes to poorer performance” compared to those who report to the office.

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Agencies have made progress in reducing the technological barriers preventing employees from working at home, the auditors said, but getting the proper equipment remains an impediment for employees.

GAO based its findings on a case study of four agencies: the Labor and Education departments, as well as the General Services Administration and the Securities and Exchange Commission. In most cases, the agencies were not requiring supervisors to complete mandatory training before they began approving their employees’ telework agreements. This prevented the supervisors from understanding their agencies’ goals and objectives with respect to telework before signing off on agreements. Additionally, GAO found three of the four agencies were not periodically reviewing the telework agreements already in place. Employees’ responsibilities often change, the auditors said, and agencies should review agreements to ensure they still “address current business needs.”

“Unless telework agreements are regularly reviewed and these reviews documented, the agencies face the increased risk of having inaccurate information,” GAO said.

The selected agencies had instituted several practices that GAO said were in compliance with telework statute. The agencies, for example, all had adequate controls to ensure telework did not “diminish employees' and organizational performance,” nor did it affect the employees’ performance expectations. Agencies continue to meet requirements for setting up agreements, including notifying all new employees of their eligibility to telework.

GAO criticized the agencies -- and the Office of Personnel Management, which administers telework policy on a governmentwide basis -- for failing to maintain proper telework data. The Labor Department, for example, still uses a manual entry system to report telework. Some agencies rely on self-reporting that may contribute to variance in what employees submit. GAO identified instances of incorrect data in OPM’s telework reporting.

GAO made a series of recommendations to both agencies, though OPM largely rejected the suggestions aimed in its direction. The agency said it did not have the resources to create more tools to analyze the effectiveness of telework and to measure management resistance and other barriers to accelerating its use. It also said it will decline to verify the telework data it receives, saying it is up to individual agencies to report accurate information.

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