Snow forces federal government to see advantages of telework

Because of the snowstorm, D.C. employees got to see the advantage of teleworking. Will the system catch on?

The federal government loses an estimated $100 million a day when offices in Washington are forced to close. According to Joe Davidson, columnist for the Washington Post, that is an amount that would easily cover the cost of equipment if Uncle Sam provided his workers with laptops and just let them work from home. The recent record snowfall in the D.C. area had some federal workers working from home.

According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, about a third of the D.C. area employees at their office and the General Services Administration logged on to their agencies' mainframe computers, most likely from their homes. That's productivity that wouldn't have happened without teleworking capabilities.

If the money savings is so cut-and-dried, then why isn't teleworking more prevalent in the federal landscape? According to Davidson's column on the topic:

An August OPM report cited management resistance to teleworking as one of the main obstacles to its spread in the federal government. "The biggest barrier to teleworking is a cultural mind-set that believes if you are not physically there . . . you must be eating bonbons," said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.).

(Let me just step in here and come to the defense of the bonbon. I was recently stranded at home for two days due to the snow and I was perfectly capable of eating bonbons and working at the same time.)

But seriously, even if your workers were only half-productive on those days that the offices were closed, isn't that better than not productive at all? The fact that these workers were motivated enough to log on from home and do some work when they probably didn't have to, to me speaks in favor of trusting your employees to do the right thing. (for more on this story, see Larry Dignan's piece for SmartPlanet by clicking here.

Things may be turning around, however; in his proposed budget for fiscal 2011, President Obama calls for increasing the number of federal employees who are eligible to telework by 50 percent.

Does anyone see any real drawbacks to this move?

By Toni Bowers

Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.