• United States

Top-down telework

Feb 24, 20044 mins
Data Center

* New program targeting decision makers hopes to add 50,000 new teleworkers to Metro D.C. by mid 2005

When you track telework like I do, sometimes it’s good to take a break and see where we are. So here’s a mini status report, broken down by the three main drivers of telework.

When you track telework like I do, sometimes it’s good to take a break and see where we are. So here’s a mini status report, broken down by the three main drivers of telework. 

* Cutting facilities and equipment costs. Embraced by the private sector, smart firms are saving millions annually by closing (often half empty) offices and putting people at home and in shared spaces. We’ve told this story countless times, so PR people, please quit pitching it to me. These guys get it – in part because they read Network World and the Network World Fusion Web site. Pity the bottom lines of those who don’t.

* Increasing business continuity/improving crisis management. This one’s also embraced by smart firms, but not by government, which really needs it. Oh, sure, Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) teleworked the day ricin powder was found in the Senate mailroom, according to an AP report. But why is this news in 2004? And why for god’s sake is the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, D.C.? Telework – or distributed work, if you prefer – is an excellent way to increase national security. Yet, less than 5%, and arguably as little as 1%, of federal workers in the D.C. region do it. (New numbers for 2003 are coming soon from the Office of Personnel Management, so stay tuned for a revisit of last year’s “More fuzzy math” column [editorial link below].  

* Decreasing traffic congestion/improving air quality. The darling on all rungs of government, this one we’ve paid a lot of attention to lately, reporting on initiatives from the Metro D.C. and Atlanta areas, Georgia state government, and OPM and the General Services Administration. So here’s the latest: 

The Washington Council of Governments (COG) and the Greater Washington Board of Trade recently announced a new joint public-private initiative, “Better Work through Telework.” Funded jointly by the departments of transportation of Maryland and Virginia, the program plans to use its $600,000 budget to increase the number of area telecommuters by 50,000 by June 2005. By targeting firms with more than 1,000 employees and larger federal agencies, COG hopes to eliminate up to 17,000 daily vehicle trips and 550,000 vehicle miles traveled.

The new project is part of COG’s broader Commuter Connections program, a service offering alternative commuting options, including telework, an annual telework conference and free workshops for employers. COG has been running training sessions for years, but this time its strategy is different. Acknowledging that area businesses know the “ABCs of telework” COG is bugging C-level executives of nearly 100 large area businesses to “re-energize” their programs, urging them to increase their size by removing old obstacles, says Commuter Connections Director Nicholas Ramfos. That could mean anything from rethinking decisions based on technology to those made by telework-resistant managers who have since left the company.

COG has also hired a new consulting company, the Telework Advantage Group  (TAG), to conduct the training – a firm based in San Francisco. You’d think COG would have preferred a local firm familiar with Metro D.C.’s unique problems, like Pentagon officials relying on “slug lines” to get to work and all (see editorial link below). But Ramfos says TAG’s consultants work all over, with many in D.C.

Although COG’s approach is new, critics doubt the organization’s ability to get results.

“This is more of the old top-down effort that’s been tried since the early 1990s,” says John Edwards, former president of the International Telework Association and Council, and managing director of the Telework Coalition. (Full disclosure: I’m on Telcoa’s advisory board.)

Instead, Edwards suggests a bottom-up “Ask for telework at work”-type campaign with incentives that affect people’s pockets. Edwards and Telcoa’s Executive Director Chuck Wilsker have some other interesting ideas we’ll look at next time.