Teleworking Grows in Federal Agencies

By Samuel Greengard

Today’s mobile revolutionisn’t just impacting how people work?it’s changing where they work. Nowhere isthis more apparent than in government, particularly as agencies look to save onoffice space, ratchet up productivity and improve work-life balance foremployees.

According to the TeleworkExchange, a public-private partnership that promotes telework, 85 percent offederal agencies have teleworkers, and 58 percent of federal employees are noweligible for home-based work. What’s more, the organization reports that 59percent of agencies surveyed expect to have a larger number of regularteleworkers within the next two years.

Not surprisingly, mobiletechnology is driving the change. The mobility tools most used by top-ratedagencies include laptops (82 percent), smartphones (54 percent), instantmessaging tools (42 percent), and video/Web conferencing (33 percent). The mostcommonly used applications include email (91 percent), Web services (47percent) and remote desktops (39 percent).

"Mobile device use amongfederal workers is clearly on the rise," says Bob Kerr, vice president,SwishData , a co-sponsor of the survey. "Federal agencies are successfullyimplementing telework polices and the technology infrastructure needed tosupport remote workers?but there are some areas where agencies can improve. Byexamining successful telework programs, agencies can make strategic investments,while supporting presidential mandates, telework expansion and mobility."

To be sure, agencies lookingto implement or expand telework programs face a number of challenges. Onlyabout half of all agencies (54 percent) are currently working on a plan toreduce costs specific to issuing mobile devices. Likewise, less than half arefocused on improving security (45 percent), networks (43 percent) and wirelessaccess (42 percent). Over the next two years, only one-third of agencies willinvest in mobile device management (MDM), one-quarter in data loss preventionand just over one-fifth in multifactor authentication.

The Telework Exchangebelieves that agencies must do a better job of preparing for more flexible workenvironments, particularly in light of Executive Order 13589, which PresidentBarack Obama signed in 2009. It requires all agencies to develop plans forreducing costs associated with employee IT devices to 20 percent below FY 2010levels, by FY 2013. The mandate required all federal agencies to submit plansto the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) by December 2011.

"To support the toppriorities highlighted by agencies?network performance, security, and wirelessaccess?industry and government need to address the performance requirementsneeded to implement a sustainable IT environment for a successful teleworkinitiative and to meet the mandate for efficient spending," says WilliamHartwell, general manager and senior director, Federal Markets Division atRiverbed, a co-sponsor of the study.

He notes that agencies mustfocus on building an "IT infrastructure that meets the demand for deliveringmission-critical applications anytime and anywhere, especially as employeeswill be located farther away from the data, and yet will expect the same, ifnot better, experience while teleworking."

In addition to infrastructureupgrades, organizations must focus on tools, planning and support. "As thenumber of teleworkers and mobile workers increases over the next couple ofyears, it is imperative for agencies to invest in technology that supports thechanging workforce," concluded Cindy Auten, general manager of the TeleworkExchange.