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Telecommuting: Security a top issue as teleworking grows

Federal government teleworker growth outpaces private sector, CDW says

By , Network World
March 19, 2007 02:51 PM ET

Network World - Security continues to dominate as IT’s most pressing concern when it comes to supporting a large telecommuting workforce. But while security is a concern, teleworking, especially in the government realm, continues to grow at an impressive clip according to a study released by the CDW Government consultancy today.

The group’s report says during the past year, telework growth in the federal government also outpaced the private sector: 35% of Federal teleworkers started teleworking, compared to 10% of private-sector teleworkers. It also said 44% of federal-employee respondents to the survey indicate that they have the option to telework – up 6% from 2006 – while 15% of private-sector employee respondents have that option, CDW says.

The study also pits the government against the private sector, saying that federal IT departments are offering telework to more workers faster: 42% of responding federal IT professionals report that their agency started or expanded its telework program in the last year and that 62% of federal agencies now have written IT policies for telework in place compared to 46% last year. Private-sector teleworkers lags well behind, with just 25% of private-sector IT professional respondents, indicating a new or expanded program in the last year, and that 40% of private-sector organizations have written telework policies in place.

Some of these numbers fly in the face of other stories that say government IT managers in particular have been slow to embrace the teleworker spirit.

"We are hampered by constantly having to beg and plead," said Wendell Joice, head of the U.S. General Services Administration's governmentwide telework team, at a conference last year. For government agencies to fully see telecommuting as a benefit, top managers need an attitude change, Joice said. Under legislation passed by the U.S. Congress in 2000, federal agencies are required to offer telecommuting as an option, but Congress can't really force agencies to speed implementation.

Others says efforts to increase telework in the federal government have a long way to go. Just 35% of federal managers today think their agencies support telework, according to results of a survey conducted by Telework Exchange and Federal Managers Association and released in January.

In reality, all executive agencies are required to offer eligible employees the opportunity to participate in telecommuting programs. Further, departments and agencies are required to report, each quarter, how many federal employees are participating in their telework programs. Agencies also are required to designate a telework coordinator who's responsible for overseeing the implementation and operation of telecommuting programs.

Despite these legislative efforts to spur increased telework, awareness remains low. Among 214 federal managers surveyed, 47% think their agencies don’t support telework, and 18% are unsure.

Nevertheless advocates of telework say it can provide government agencies and private companies several benefits, including a way to remotely continue operations during a national disaster or terrorist attack. Telecommuting can also ease the traffic problems, reduce pollution and increase worker productivity, advocates say.

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