Understanding Government Telework

An Examination of Research Literature and Practices from Government Agencies

by Cortney Weinbaum, Bonnie L. Triezenberg, Erika Meza, David Luckey

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Research Questions

  1. What technological, legal, policy, financial, and security concerns should federal agencies consider when adopting a telework program?
  2. How can government agencies benefit when employees engage in telework?

Across the federal government, telework is the principal method for allowing employees to work outside agency facilities. This report provides an overview of the literature on telework, examines telework practices from across seven government agencies, and explains how government agencies benefit when employees engage in telework. In national security agencies, the benefits of working outside government facilities must be balanced with the need to protect classified and sensitive information.

Among the federal programs examined, the authors found similarities across successful agency telework programs regarding compliance with federal and organizational policies, technological accommodations for employees, a measurable return on investment, the adaptation of performance management tools, and training. A clear understanding of the purposes of telework is essential to guiding the development of program goals, policies, and performance measures, as well as for the managers who will be responsible for developing and implementing new technology capabilities, security protocols, and training. This report can serve as a reference in understanding mechanisms that can be used to accommodate changing workforces that demand flexible work hours and the option to work from alternate locations.

Key Findings

The literature provides examples of the types of benefits, measures, and cost savings that organizations may consider and plan for when designing a telework program

  • For employees, telework benefits may include greater flexibility in their schedules and reduced commuting time, but telework risks isolating employees from the team environment that an office may provide.
  • For employers, benefits may include increased productivity from employees and higher job satisfaction, although telework may cause decreased team cohesion.
  • The most-significant monetary costs for employers may result from providing computing equipment or other infrastructure to employees working remotely, but there may also be some cost savings from decreasing the square footage of office space.

Successful agency telework programs are compliant with federal and organizational policies, provide certain technological accommodations for employees who telework, and demonstrate return on investment

  • Some of these lessons are the adaptation of performance management tools, network accommodations, and personnel training.

Recommendations

  • Establish program goals that clearly explain the mission value of telework and effectively communicate those goals to the workforce. The agencies examined in the report set goals to reduce real-estate costs, improve employee job satisfaction, and be more responsive to the public and during crisis events.
  • Clearly communicate which job positions are eligible for telework and which functions within each job position are suitable for off-site work. If the agency has sensitive data that require special handling, employees should be informed how to work remotely and what security protocols are required. Establishing clear policies and providing adequate training are essential to implementing the parameters that agency leaders set.
  • Create policies that document the agency's implementation of telework, how data should be handled, and the use of government and personal computing devices. Employees and managers should have a clear understanding of whether telework is acceptable at the agency, how to effectively engage in telework, and what is expected of the teleworking employee and the teleworker's supervisor.
  • Create performance measures for the agency and teleworkers. Agencies should measure the performance of the telework program against the established goals. For employees and managers, performance measures may consider deliverable-based or results-oriented management approaches or quantifiable metrics for performance.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Literature Review of Telework

  • Chapter Three

    Examining Federal Telework Programs

  • Chapter Four

    Conclusions and Recommendations

This research was sponsored by the Human Development Directorate at NGA and conducted within the Cyber and Intelligence Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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