Sarbanes touts the advantages of telework

Will telework soon become the norm at most federal agencies?

We’ve been telling you about the fact that the Telework Improvements Act passed in the House.

Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) was one of the sponsors of the bill and explains how it would change the telework eligibility process in most federal agencies.

“It would require each federal agency to appoint a telework managing officer — somebody within each agency who’s really responsible [for coordinating] the telework policy. . . . OPM will develop uniform regulations across the board to support those efforts.”

In addition, he says supervisors and managers will get training about telework and there will be regular evaluations of agency telework policies.

“[This] fulfills many, many objectives. It’s going to help these agencies recruit better — they’ll be able to offer this kind of opportunity to prospective employees. It will, I think, raise both productivity and morale, because we’ve seen that clearly in those agencies that have been most proactive in their telework policies in the last few years. The continuity of operations dimension of this cannot be over stated, with the snowstorm of this past winter being a perfect example.”

According to OPM’s survey, 23 percent of federal employees say they are not allowed to telework. Sarbanes says he thinks this is why having a concrete telecommuting policy in place is so important.

“Having a telework managing officer in each agency, I think, is going to be very useful because they can test that proposition. It may be that some employees perceive that because they’re in an environment where supervisors and managers really aren’t promoting a culture where telework is developed. If you can get policies in place and individuals who are promoting it within the agency, you may discover in the next survey that people who thought they weren’t allowed to do it or being discouraged from doing it in fact see that it’s a real opportunity.”

The congressman adds the number that jumped out at him the most was the one dealing with feds who thought they would never be able to telework because of the nature of their jobs. 36 percent of respondents said it would be very difficult or impossible for them to ever telecommute.

“That number could change itself, particularly over time, if we develop more secure opportunities for people who deal with more sensitive information. But, even if you accept that number, that means that there’s 64 percent of the workforce that could take advantage of telework.”

The bill is now headed to a House-Senate conference committee.

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