• United States

Beating the drum in 2005

Aug 31, 20043 mins

* The Telework Coalition takes ambitious steps to increase telework

The Telework Coalition, a Washington, D.C. advocacy group, is making big plans for 2005. Newly incorporated, the group is changing its legal status to a 501(c)(6), which means it can lobby Congress, recruit members, put on conferences and the like.

The group – run by former International Telework Association and Council leaders John Edwards, Chuck Wilsker and Jack Heacock – spent the last two years working with Maryland legislators to draft telework tax incentives, educating companies involved in the federal e-commute program, and conducting roundtables and training sessions for private and public sector organizations. (I also sit on TelCoa’s advisory board.) It also helps promote virtual call centers and broadband deployment, and evaluates telework-enabling technologies.

TelCoa stands apart because it’s wholly dedicated to increasing the number of teleworkers and solidifying organizations’ commitment to telework, says Wilsker, TelCoa president. A look at TelCoa’s 2005 agenda presents a snapshot of the state of telework.

* First, it wrestles with what is telework. Does TelCoa see workers who check e-mail at night the way they see employees enrolled in formal telework programs? “Yes, episodic teleworkers need technology, too and could be a good gateway to the establishment of more formal programs within their companies. Our tagline -Enabling Virtual, Mobile, and Distributed Work through Education, Technology, and Legislation  -says we realize it’s all telework whether you call it that or not.”

* TelCoa is examining how telework can create jobs for rural, disabled and retired workers, and military spouses. “Consider how many people lost their retirement savings when the tech market crashed,” Wilsker says. “Like my dentist – now he has to postpone retirement. Or what about returning war veterans? There are more than 12,000 disabled veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan alone who need to find a new way of working.”

* Once the group’s new 501(c)(6) status is finalized this fall, TelCoa will launch a membership drive. “We want to offer a voice to all the telework segments – teleworkers, telework managers and the companies themselves,” Wilsker says. “Individual teleworkers are often cut off, isolated. We’ll create a forum where teleworkers from one company can talk to those from another, or even find other teleworkers in their own company they otherwise wouldn’t have access to. We can help telework managers share best practices and ask questions.”

* TelCoa will begin formally promoting legislation that encourages telework, such as tax incentives, as well as work to change laws that discourage telework, such as Sen. Chris Dodd’s (D-Conn.) legislation to end telework double taxing by New York State (see editorial link below). 

* Perhaps most intriguing are TelCoa’s plans to build a training and certification program. Today, teleworkers are often reluctant to take a job with another company for fear of losing the telework benefit. In theory, teleworkers could use certification as a way to push a new employer to let them telework from the outset. Considering the biggest inhibitor to telework is middle managers, telework manager training and certification has obvious benefits. And if companies with formal telework policies and good programs gain certification, they could become more attractive to prospective employees.

* Last, TelCoa plans to push hard for companies to create formal telework policies. Wilsker says today nearly three quarters of the organizations he talks to lack them. “Telework policies are crucial for dealing with security issues, liability, legal, HR, safety, health and ergonomics,” he says.