The United States Congress has approved the Telework Improvements Act of 2010 (H.R. 1722) to allow federal government employees to work from home or another remote location, on work that does not require security clearance or other special circumstances. This is primarily to enhance emergency readiness capacity and to promote “Continuity of Operations”, a continuity which is threatened from challenges such as severe weather, threats, strikes, and outages.
The second critical reason to introduce this program is to conserve resources. Four-day work weeks have been used widely during these budget-conscious days to reduce operations costs. Lower demands for heating and cooling, and reduced need for transportation to central offices has an immediate positive and quantifiable effect on the government budget.
The idea of telework may seem to reduce productivity, but if employees can work in their own comfortable space (not necessarily in their pajamas) and away from the inevitable distractions of office mates, the increased concentration may lead to increased performance. Increased control over one’s work environment, whether it be the hours devoted to a task, lighting and temperature, view or furnishings or posture – all of this contributes to personal satisfaction with the job. This leads to greater retention of employees, a tremendous cost benefit to the government.
Telework also seems likely to reduce camaraderie of the work community and foster individual acts of rebellion, but this may also be false. Daily exposure to the foibles of co-workers may result in annoyance or even violence. Occasional work days away from the “duty station” may restore pleasant temperaments.
Working in public may increase community connections and improve awareness of government initiatives. Sipping coffee at the local marketplace while telecommuting to a central GIS site may inspire curious and brilliant onlookers to explore government employment opportunities. On certain projects community input may be desirable, and easier access to the public by employees drafting new policies may provide more accurate and timely feedback.
The ability of people to work from different locations extends the resiliency of the government through emergency readiness, cost savings, and a public presence in the community. Private corporations have seen the benefits, and extended the ability of their employees to do the same. The coffeehouse better add a few chairs.