Telecommuting in the media
What he finds odd is that this is one area where, of all things, the government is ahead of private industry. It turns out that Public Law 106-346 "requires each Executive agency to establish a policy under which eligible employees may participate in telecommuting to the maximum extent possible without diminished employee performance." There's a very interesting report on the GSA Telework site that has a lot of data in it about how telework has worked out for the Federal government:
- 85% of executive agencies have telework policies. 65% of them even have telework coupled with alternative work schedules.
- 46% of agencies reported that over 25% of their employees participated in telework at least once during the year.
- 50% of teleworkers in executive agencies are "core" teleworkers -- that is, "Telework that occurs on a routine, regular, and recurring basis away from an employee's principal place of duty (e.g., at home, at a telework center, at an alternate location) one or more days per week."
- For agencies with a low percentage of teleworkers, the barriers cited were:
- Office coverage challenges, 54.6% (I'm not even sure what this means.)
- Nature of agency work, 51.1%
- Data security, 44.1%
- Management resistance, 38.3%
- IT issues, 31.4%
- Funding for equipment/IT support, 25.5%
- Employee resistance, 15.1%
- None, just not doing it, 10.4%
- Training, 6.9%
Take a look at those barriers. Some are quite legitimate -- "nature of agency work" could easily make telecommuting impossible for large numbers of employees (it's hard to work from home if you're, say, the clerk at the DMV or otherwise in a customer-facing, in-person job), and "employee resistance" reflects the fact that some people just aren't able to be productive at home due to distractions. For that matter, some people see going to the office as a form of socializing and would be lonely without it.
But the fact that Data Security and IT Issues are on there is kind of sad, as those issues are quite resolvable. On the bright side, they're actually a good bit easier to solve than, say, management resistance. We have technologies like VPNs and laptop encryption that can take care of the data security needs, though to implement them securely requires there be some company-provided equipment (it doesn't do much good if I make a perfectly secure connection to someone's spyware-ridden home machine that hasn't had a virus scan in four years.)
The conclusion of the report, though, is something the private sector really needs to hear: "The positive impact telework can have on an employee's reduced commuting time, effort, and costs; increased productivity; and increased control over the delicate act of balancing work and personal responsibilities is tremendous. Benefits to the organization, including the increased ability to recruit and retain valuable employees, gain higher productivity, and experience boosted morale, are clearly documented. Reduced commuting serves to benefit the environment by fewer pollutants being dispersed into the air, and less wear and tear to roads and vehicles."
Despite the numbers given in the report, Dvorak concludes that the primary barrier to telework is simple irrational management resistance -- as he puts it, "the current management model is hovering around 1921." I've certainly run into this, when my current manager was hired into this IT group, his first actions were to establish more fixed working hours, get a schedule drawn up for people, and spout manager aphorisms like "Everyone is valued in the office." I wonder, however, if this is the case everywhere or if Dvorak and I are just drawing conclusions from our own anecdotal bad experiences. Somehow, I doubt that federal government agencies are hotbeds of enlightened, forward-looking management -- if anything, I'd expect the bureaucratic culture to encourage even more order-for-order's-sake.