New telecommuting law encourages more federal workers to work from home

The Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 requires US federal agencies to draw up plans to give all eligible employees the option to telecommute.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

Approximately five percent of the federal workforce telecommutes, but the government wants to increase this number to cut help costs, reduce energy consumption, and relieve traffic congestion. President Obama just signed into law the ‘‘Telework Enhancement Act of 2010,’’ which requires federal agencies to come up with policies within the next six months to promote telecommuting.

By law, all eligible federal employees will be given the option to telecommute. The act, first proposed in March 2009,  requires agencies to establish telework policies and appoint "telework managing officers" to oversee the programs. Of course, this mainly pertains to white-collar or executive personnel. Those with "on-site activity that cannot be handled remotely or at an alternate worksite" or involved in managing emergency situations are not covered by the act.

Along with the energy and environmental benefits of fewer cars on the road, telecommuting improves employee productivity and satisfaction, not to mention the ability of organizations to recruit quality talent. In September, SmartPlanet colleague Andrew Nusca posted results of a survey that showed 93% of federal workers would value the telecommuting option if it were made available to them.

One of the challenging management aspects of telework is that telecommuting employees don't have the exposure to workplace opportunities that on-premises employees have. They are somewhat invisible. The new law attempts to address this by mandating that federal agencies treat teleworkers and non-teleworkers the same for purposes of "periodic appraisals of job performance of employees; training, rewarding, reassigning, promoting, reducing in grade, retaining, and removing employees; work requirements; or other acts involving managerial discretion."

The law -- passed in the wake of the WikiLeaks brouhaha -- also attempts to address information security, requiring the director of the Office of Management and Budget, in coordination with the Department of
Homeland Security and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, to provide technology security guidelines.

To sweeten the incentives to encourage telecommuting, the law also enables agencies to test programs to cover the travel expenses of telecommuting employees who still need to occasionally come into their workplaces.

As we've covered in previous posts on these pages, the huge wheels of government have been turning in the right direction on a number of fronts, including the embrace of cloud computing to cut IT costs and social media to increase innovation and better connect with the people. The telecommuting push is one more example of applying technology to improve the agility and responsiveness of the world's largest organization.

A link to a full copy of the bill is available here at the US Government Printing Office site.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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