Study: Government outpaces private sector on telework

U.S. companies, traditionally the early adopters of new technology, lag behind the government in adopting telework partly because of evolving notions of productivity, some industry analysts say.

On Monday, the information technology vendor CDW Government released a national telework study that shows federal agency telework adoption outpaces private-sector acceptance by a 3-1 margin.

Firooz Ghanbarzadeh, the director of technology services and solutions at CDW-G, speculated that the companies that "have tied themselves to the traditional work setting and view IT as a necessary evil have not succeeded" at telework.

The quality of telework technology and security are no longer major concerns because of high-speed Internet access, online collaboration tools and data protection, CDW-G and other management consultants said. The big barrier in the private sector is the bottom line, Ghanbarzadeh said.

Telework programs require forward-looking leaders who can see beyond the costs to the long-term benefits, he said. "My assumption is that the innovative companies are probably the ones who are taking advantage of it. The ones who are focused on the bottom line ... are probably not the ones taking advantage of it. Creating telework is not without its investment and challenge."

Jon Hughes, vice president of the technology solutions group at the program management consulting firm Robbins-Gioia, said corporate telework decisions probably hinge on company definitions of success. No single sector is particularly best or worst at implementing telework, according to Ghanbarzadeh.

Tricia Davis-Muffett, Robbins-Gioia's vice president of marketing, said it should be noted that within the government, more people are eligible to telework than are actually allowed.

Legislation requires that many federal workers be eligible to telework, and based upon job description or statute, many positions are defined on paper as having the ability to telework. But supervisors and information technology policy may bar the employees from doing so.

The CDW-G study reports that more than half of federal employees are eligible to telework, but only 44 percent actually have permission. In the private sector, the disparity is smaller: Roughly 16 percent of employees are eligible, and 15 percent also have the option.

"This gap between policy and procedure is not entirely unexpected," Ghanbarzadeh said. "Federal managers are working to comply with a legislative mandate that some do not embrace. In the private sector, managerial preference is often policy; therefore, it is much more likely that policy and procedure are in agreement."

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