With the recent signing of the Telework Enhancement Act, which requires federal agencies to establish telework policies, federal telework is in the spotlight. However, many state and local governments also are making strides in telework by using innovative technologies and management practices to enhance workplace flexibility.

Telework programs can have several benefits, including supporting business continuity. Integrating telework into a business continuity plan is especially important for state and local agencies, because they are expected to provide the first response during emergencies. Whether a water main breaks or snowfall halts transportation, telework has helped the Washington area stay up and running. In both situations, government employees can work from home to avoid dangerous conditions and maintain business operations. The federal government projected that teleworking during the February 2010 snowstorms saved taxpayers $30 million a day, cutting the projected loss of productivity from an initial estimate of $100 million.

Many agencies that have implemented telework programs also have increased productivity and improved employee performance. For example, as part of a telework pilot program, the Virginia Department of Taxation had more than 60 percent of employees work from home at least one day per week and found that at-home workers experienced a 75 percent increase in productivity during the week.

Local and state agencies can implement pilot projects to test the results in their organizations. Loudoun County, Va., conducted a pilot program in 2006 and within a year implemented a full telework program for the building inspection department. The program equipped all 76 building inspectors and supervisors with notebook computers containing broadband cards and Virtual Private Network (VPN) access to the county's network and its applications. With telework, inspectors receive assignments, conduct research and communicate inspection results remotely, eliminating up to 152 trips to the office by the inspectors daily. The county hopes to realize $95,000 in annual leased office space savings when the current office lease expires.

Steps to implement a telework program

1. Build your program. Develop an organization-wide telework policy and agreement that addresses eligibility and defines telework. Training is critical to ensure managers and employees are prepared for the culture change. Also, establish measurable goals, which include measuring employees' performance against project schedules and key milestones, regular status reporting, and peer and/or project team quality reviews.

2. Gain management support. Educating managers and key stakeholders on the benefits of telework is the first step. Encouraging managers to telework can help show the value firsthand. According to Telework Exchange research, managers most involved in telework (those who telework themselves) report favorable impressions with 21 percent greater frequency than managers who do not telework or manage teleworkers.

3. Implement technology. A wide variety of telework-enabling technology is available. Typically, teleworkers require a computer, peripheral equipment (e.g., printer, copier, scanner and facsimile), phone, Internet connectivity, secure network access and technical support. In addition, organizations use tools such as video conferencing, web-based collaboration solutions, Voice over Internet Protocol, and mobile personal digital assistants.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Aruba Networks recommends using secure network access (e.g., VPN) technology to handle sensitive information in a telework environment. Supporting mobility also must be taken into consideration. Technologies, such as context-based security, can allow state and local governments to securely deal with unsupported devices, such as iPads and smartphones, to maintain compliance and support mobility at the same time.

Across the country, state and local governments are initiating telework programs that benefit their communities by improving efficiency and productivity. Federal, state and local agencies should share their experiences and best practices on how to achieve telework success.

Cindy Auten is general manager for Telework Exchange, an Alexandria, Va.-based public-private partnership focused on expanding the awareness and adoption of telework. For more information about Telework Exchange, visit www.teleworkexchange.com.

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