Teleworking Grows in Federal Agencies
By Samuel Greengard
Today's mobile revolution isn't just impacting how people work—it's changing where they work. Nowhere is this more apparent than in government, particularly as agencies look to save on office space, ratchet up productivity and improve work-life balance for employees.
According to the Telework Exchange, a public-private partnership that promotes telework, 85 percent of federal agencies have teleworkers, and 58 percent of federal employees are now eligible for home-based work. What's more, the organization reports that 59 percent of agencies surveyed expect to have a larger number of regular teleworkers within the next two years.
Not surprisingly, mobile technology is driving the change. The mobility tools most used by top-rated agencies include laptops (82 percent), smartphones (54 percent), instant messaging tools (42 percent), and video/Web conferencing (33 percent). The most commonly used applications include email (91 percent), Web services (47 percent) and remote desktops (39 percent).
"Mobile device use among federal workers is clearly on the rise," says Bob Kerr, vice president, SwishData , a co-sponsor of the survey. "Federal agencies are successfully implementing telework polices and the technology infrastructure needed to support remote workers—but there are some areas where agencies can improve. By examining successful telework programs, agencies can make strategic investments, while supporting presidential mandates, telework expansion and mobility."
To be sure, agencies looking to implement or expand telework programs face a number of challenges. Only about half of all agencies (54 percent) are currently working on a plan to reduce costs specific to issuing mobile devices. Likewise, less than half are focused on improving security (45 percent), networks (43 percent) and wireless access (42 percent). Over the next two years, only one-third of agencies will invest in mobile device management (MDM), one-quarter in data loss prevention and just over one-fifth in multifactor authentication.
The Telework Exchange believes that agencies must do a better job of preparing for more flexible work environments, particularly in light of Executive Order 13589, which President Barack Obama signed in 2009. It requires all agencies to develop plans for reducing costs associated with employee IT devices to 20 percent below FY 2010 levels, by FY 2013. The mandate required all federal agencies to submit plans to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) by December 2011.
"To support the top priorities highlighted by agencies—network performance, security, and wireless access—industry and government need to address the performance requirements needed to implement a sustainable IT environment for a successful telework initiative and to meet the mandate for efficient spending," says William Hartwell, general manager and senior director, Federal Markets Division at Riverbed, a co-sponsor of the study.
He notes that agencies must focus on building an "IT infrastructure that meets the demand for delivering mission-critical applications anytime and anywhere, especially as employees will be located farther away from the data, and yet will expect the same, if not better, experience while teleworking."
In addition to infrastructure upgrades, organizations must focus on tools, planning and support. "As the number of teleworkers and mobile workers increases over the next couple of years, it is imperative for agencies to invest in technology that supports the changing workforce," concluded Cindy Auten, general manager of the Telework Exchange.