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Josh Sawislak

Josh Sawislak

Posted: December 10, 2010 12:22 PM

Teleworkers are more productive, better focused, and still have more time to spend with their families and doing civic work. Studies have shown this, and even people who are skeptical often change their mind when they try it themselves. Yet, some in government have failed to embrace this tool as a way to gain efficiency, improve morale, help the environment, and save money. With his signature on the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, President Obama joined more than 350 members of Congress in doing something which voters from both parties made clear what they wanted -- make government more effective and less expensive. We congratulate the President and members of both parties in Congress who supported this critical legislation.

Research conducted by the Telework Exchange and other organizations show that when working from home or an alternate location, employees are more productive and more satisfied with their job. One such study was just published by Kathryn Fonner, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Dr. Fonner and her coauthor, professor Michael Roloff of Northwestern University, found that teleworkers are better shielded from many of the stress-inducing issues of the workplace and that leads to higher job satisfaction.

Productivity is a good goal, but in these days of frequent attacks on our federal workforce for being overpaid and under worked, why would we argue that job satisfaction is an important goal? Happy workers are better workers. They are less distracted, more conscientious, and generally get more accomplished in less time. This also affects retention and recruitment, and while there are great efforts underway to improve the federal hiring process, it is currently a long and arduous process. Finding and keeping good employees is a major driver of effective government, and telework can and does enable this effort. The President's recent proposal to freeze federal salary levels is not surprising considering the last month's election, but if we continue to want effective, as well as less expensive, government, we need to use all of the tools in the box, not just the ones that make good headlines.

Telework is not for everyone. Many government jobs require a specialized work environment in a laboratory or facility for classified material. Others, by their very nature, require the employee to be at a specific work location, such as a park ranger or nurse. But just because telework is not universal in its application, does not mean that it cannot result in very real savings across government, even to the people who cannot participate directly. Telework was developed in the 1970s as a strategy for reducing traffic during rush hour. While it has a whole host of other benefits today, it still meets this original goal resulting in extra space on the roads and seats on the trains and buses for the people who still need to come into the office daily. The reduction in air pollution is a regional benefit and this is all before we get to the cost savings, improved efficiencies, and gains in quality of life.

The new law is not a magic elixir for curing all of the real and imagined flaws of the bureaucracy, rather it is a framework to direct departments and agencies toward using telework as a tool for efficiency improvements, resilience, and cost savings. The law requires that agencies establish consistent telework policies, appoint a senior official with direct access to the agency head to lead this effort, and report their progress to the Office of Personnel Management. Congress, through the Government Accountability Office, will monitor this effort and, hopefully, provide an independent validation of the success, not just a reporting of the missteps.

Meeting our citizen's desire for effective, efficient, and responsive government is a joint responsibility of the Congress and the Administration. We believe that this new law will help both branches of government show the American people that desire for good government is not a partisan issue, but a fundamental foundation of our nation.

If you want to continue the dialogue on telework, write to me at jsawislak@teleworkexchange.com or visit my blog at TeleworkExchange.com.