Nearly all agencies meet initial telework policy deadline

But additional work lays ahead, OPM says. Has your agency informed you of your telework status? Take our poll.

Has your agency informed you of your telework status? Take our poll.

Federal agencies have made progress toward meeting initial telework deadlines, but work remains to stand up individual agreements for eligible employees, according to the Office of Personnel Management.

President Obama in December signed the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act, which gave 180 days from the law's enactment -- until June 7, 2011 -- to establish a policy on working outside the office, to identify eligible employees and to inform them of the option. The law also requires agencies to name an official to manage telework programs. In addition, agencies must incorporate the policy into plans for continuing essential services during natural disasters or other emergencies.

Justin Johnson, deputy chief of staff at OPM, told reporters Tuesday that nearly all agencies have met the deadline of informing employees of their eligibility to telework. Because the decision is up to individual managers, some workers may have fallen through the cracks, but telework management officers responsible for the programs have reported that processes are in place, he said.

June 7 is a milestone, but only a first step in the process of rolling out telework governmentwide, Johnson said. Agencies should encourage managers and eligible employees to work together on telework agreements and incorporate telework into operations policies. Telework should be viewed as a strategic management tool rather than a benefit, he said.

"Our goal really has shifted from teleworking for the sake of teleworking to making sure the right people are teleworking and people who should be teleworking because it jibes well with their duties," Johnson said. "Where telework makes sense we need to use it aggressively."

The degree to which government employees telework remains unclear. OPM has reported that just 6 percent of employees telework under a formal agreement, while the most recent Employee Viewpoint Survey found that 22 percent of employees reported teleworking to some extent.

According to a Telework Exchange survey of 354 federal employees released Tuesday, 32 percent of them telework either on a routine or situational basis. The survey also identified collecting data and tracking progress as key telework challenges.

"Some [agencies] have very detailed systems in place and can get us accurate numbers," Johnson said. "Others are running around at the deadline counting heads, counting agreements."

According to Johnson, OPM is looking at ways to help agencies continue to advance telework programs and achieve mission goals by increasing the number of employees trained and equipped to work in any situation and by reducing real estate costs.

Other deadlines are coming in the next year. OPM in the summer of 2012 must submit a detailed report to Congress on the status of telework. The Office of Management and Budget in April issued a memo requiring agencies by July 28 to update policies on telework technology purchasing. According to the Telework Exchange survey, 30 percent of agencies already have met this requirement.

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