Will Telework Improve or Inhibit Agency Efficiency? Readers Voice Their Views

Telework is being used in federal agencies and OPM is expanding it via a pilot program. A majority of those responding to our recent survey have had some experience with the program.

Last week, we noted in an article that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is starting the government’s first pilot test of the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) next month. It will involve about 400 OPM employees in Washington, DC and Boyers, Pa. The pilot will run through the end of this year.

Telework is one term that has been used in the federal government for some time and, as a practical matter, that is or could be an essential element of the new program now being championed by OPM. We asked readers about their experience with telework in their agencies.

It is obvious from our survey that telework is a concept that is well-known among our readers. A majority of those responding have used a telework option in their federal job and more than 66% say their agency authorizes the use of telework to some extent.

About 66% of those responding think that telework will improve agency efficiency and effectiveness and about 22% think it will not have any impact or that efficiency will decline as a result of telework.

Summary of Survey Results

Here are the results:

Have you used a telework option in your federal job now or in the past?

51.7% yes

46% no

0.2% undecided

2.1% not applicable

Does your organization authorize the use of telework?

66.2% yes

24% no

9.9% not sure

To your knowledge, does anyone else in your immediate organization use a telework option?

65.4% yes

25.9% no

8.6% not sure

In your opinion, will using telework have an impact on the efficiency or productivity of your organization?

66.2% It will improve efficiency and effectiveness.
11.0%  It will decrease efficiency and effectiveness.

10.8% It will not have an impact on efficiency and effectiveness.

12% undecided

About 800 readers who voted in the survey also sent in written comments. Here is a sample of these comments ranging from those who like the concept and have used it as well as those who have experienced problems and expect more of the same as the concept is expanded in government.

  • In our organization, telework (flexiplace) has significantly improved efficiency, effectiveness, and quality of life. In addition, it has provided significant benefits for the environment such as reduced traffic congestion, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • I think it is long overdue!!! It should be implemented. The one time I did work at home I got tons more work done w/o interruptions. I get exhausted w/interruptions and dingy questions all day long.
  • You cannot convince me that the people who do this work an 8 hour day with all the interruptions of home environment (children, meals, pets, personal phone calls, visitors). And, most projects require meetings and interaction with fellow employees. This concept, in my opinion, and from my personal experience with co-workers who ‘supposedly’ work at home, is another waste of government money.
  • As is, many employees are on their phones conducting personal business making it impossible for coworkers or veterans to get thru. When a message is left on voice mail, in many instances, a return phone call does not happen.
  • Too many govt workers sit at my agency and read a book or sleep all day because there is no work and management won’t cut the slots because management states we need to keep the vacancies filled, why??? Ooh what the taxpayers don’t know about federal workers.
  • I would not like having a “work pc” in my home and being liable for personal information on people ..that needs to stay in the workplace.
  • Telework is OK for some types of work, few people have the discipline to totally work out of the office, they need to report to work on some frequency for progress reviews and personal interaction with other team members.
  • Even the most highly motivated employee will be limited in productivity by the constraints of slow network activity.
  • It already does improve efficiency & effectiveness. It seems my co-workers who telework are happier which results in job satisfaction and more productivity.
  • I’ve teleworked for several months. I can plan my schedule better and get more work accomplished when I am teleworking. The stress from a long commute is diminished and the environment from working in my home office is more condusive to actually completing the work with the least amount of distractions as opposed to actually working in the actual office within my agency.
  • At this time in SSA, it is not being offered to anyone outside of Baltimore, MD. (Headquarters.) I firmly believe it would be beneficial. For example, an employee may not be feeling well and stays home from work. However, if they had telework they could continue to perform their work assignments without contaminating the workplace.
  • It has significantly decreased our efficiency and effectiveness.
  • I almost answered that it won’t have an impact, because efficient workers will remain efficient, and those that aren’t won’t change. But if I was working at home, I wouldn’t have all the visitors stopping by my cube. Office chit-chat wastes a lot of time! Office friendships and bonding are good, but just because someone is walking around with their coffee cup doesn’t mean they’re working.
  • Telework is only a part of ROWE. MOST IMPORTANTLY, ROWE is a MINDSET. Not some stupid program. A MINDSET. Instead of rewarding people that just fill the time. It rewards people for being EFFICIENT AND EFFECTIVE. No more wasted time. Game over. Go change the world. 🙂
  • There are too many federal employees now just doing the bare minimum to get by and expecting to get more pay for what they don’t/won’t do now in their current positions. If some of these people were in the private sector, they would have been fired long ago.
  • I telework one day per week. It allows me to be much more effective by having one day I can concentrate and not be subject to constant noise and interruptions in the cubicle environment. At the same time, I enjoy spending days in the office as well, despite the chaos.
  • The high maintenance employees who exhibit poor conduct and poor performance are hard to manage when they are in my office and I have daily, face-to-face contact with them. Much of the work we do can not be measured by “produce Widget A”. Our work requires face-to-face meetings and interaction of interdisciplinary teams. I don’t think telework works for employees with poor conduct and poor performance. I have two employees who use telework, and they are not producers. It is a constant, daily struggle to get them to engage.
  • More work for supervisor, employees will take advantage of situation, will consider it an entitlement.
  • The facilities are not in place to allow workers from Home to have the same efficiency as work. The same tools are not available without logging out and logging in to separate networks. One network for office automation tools and one network for administrative access to systems.
  • For me personally it’s great. There may be a few that abuse the privilege, but they probably aren’t doing much work in the office anyway.

Our thanks to all of our readers who took the time to participate in this survey and a special thanks to those who expanded on their views by sending in written comments.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47