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Does Telework Work?

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Since the passage of the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act, it’s likely that your agency is implementing telework in some form or fashion. The question is, how will your agency know if that telework program is producing results?

Cindy Auten, general manager for Telework Exchange, said in an interview with Wired Workplace last week that measuring results was one of the most-discussed topics at the bi-annual Telework Town Hall meeting earlier this month. “One of the great challenges for agencies is making sure they can measure the success of their program appropriately,” Auten said.

In February, Auten noted that agencies like the Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security departments -- which were called out in a recent letter to Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry for having high numbers of positions deemed ineligible for telework -- may have a difficult time beginning to track and provide accurate data. And those agencies are not alone, she said.

Solving the challenge of measuring telework performance was the focus of a webinar on Thursday also sponsored by Telework Exchange.

Shirley LaBella, telework coordinator at the National Institutes of Health, said NIH’s telework program started as a pilot in 2001 with 51 employees teleworking two days per month. The success of the pilot has led to a vast expansion of telework across the agency, she said, with 16,313, or 85 percent, of NIH employees eligible to telework. Of those, 21 percent are regular teleworkers, 19 percent are ad hoc teleworkers and 45 percent are eligible but choose not to telework, she said.

NIH knows its telework program is successful because it has come a long way in gathering and managing the data on the program, and that goes beyond just the results of OPM’s annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, LaBella said. This involves quarterly polls to determine the number of people teleworking and how often they are teleworking, she said.

NIH also is working to become even better at tracking its telework performance, in part by replacing its manual system with one that is integrated with the time and attendance system for employees, LaBella said.

“What you begin to realize is the necessity that the data is reliable and consistent so you’re measuring the same thing each time,” she said. “And that the tracking mechanism being used is something where [the data] is well-defined. That’s what we anticipate the time and attendance system to do for our data.”

The agency also has launched a telework cost and environment savings estimate tool, where employees can enter information like their type of vehicle, the cost of gas, miles in their commute and the number of days they telework to determine the amount of cost savings they could achieve through the arrangement. To view that tool, click here.

For other agencies looking to effectively track and measure their telework success, LaBella recommends beginning by looking at goals and parameters that will define success. “We looked at the drivers and benefits that were important to NIH,” she said. “As a result, we can tie our data to those drivers to measure how successful we’re being.”

Meanwhile, LaBella said that telework has hit “17 birds with one stone,” in that it has reduced costs of utilities and space, improved continuity of operations readiness, bolstered employee retention and increased employee productivity, among 12 other benefits.

Reporter Portrait for GovernmentExecutive.com

Brittany Ballenstedt writes Nextgov's Wired Workplace blog, which delves into the issues facing employees who work in the federal information technology sector. Before joining Nextgov, Brittany covered federal pay and benefits issues as a staff correspondent for Government Executive and served as an associate editor for National Journal's Technology Daily. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Mansfield University and originally hails from Pennsylvania. She currently lives near Travis Air Force Base, Calif., where her husband is stationed.

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