The number of federal employees deemed eligible to telework nearly doubled last year. All told, nearly half of the entire federal workforce — more than 1 million employees — is eligible to telework, according to an annual report to Congress from the Office of Personnel Management.
That’s a 49 percent increase in telework-eligibility compared to fiscal 2011, when about 685,000 employees — or 32 percent of the total workforce — was deemed telework-eligible.
OPM’s report, the second since President Barack Obama signed the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, also noted sizable gains in the number of agencies with telework policies in place, the number of employees who signed telework agreements governing their work outside the office and the frequency with which they teleworked.
The number of employees with telework agreements in place increased to 267,227 employees — an 84 percent increase from 2011 when 144,851 employees had agreements in place, according to the report.
A total of 301,372 federal employees reported teleworking at least once during fiscal 2012. That’s about 14 percent of all federal employees and 30 percent of eligible employees. Comparisons to 2011 are more difficult here, though, because OPM did not gather all of fiscal 2011 data. In last year’s report, agencies were only queried on telework participation during the month of September, which it aimed to use as a single snapshot of telework frequency. In September 2011, 168,558 employees reported teleworking at least once. That increased to 209,192 in September 2012.
The number of agencies with telework policies in place increased to 76 percent — up from 70 percent in 2011. However, because of “internal review processes and unresolved policy questions,” according to the report, there are still at least a handful of agencies with no established telework policies in place even three years after the updated telework law was enacted.
OPM says agencies are becoming more strategic in their use of telework.
“Ultimately, we want agencies to use telework strategically to drive results: ensuring continuity of operations, reducing management costs, improving our employees’ ability to balance their work and life commitments, and increasing accountability for achieving individual work results,” OPM Director Katherine Archuleta said in a forward to the report. “The report shows that a growing number of agencies do use telework as a strategic tool.”
For example, the use of unscheduled telework has taken on a greater role in agency continuity-of-operations plans and is now routinely included in OPM’s notice of weather-related office closings. In the most recent update to its closure and dismissal guidelines, OPM encouraged agencies to allow telework- ready employees to work from home any time OPM makes an announcement allowing for unscheduled telework.
The added push for telework is also leading to concrete savings, according to the report.
Across a range of categories, including rent and office space, utilities and reduced employee absences, more agencies reported cost-savings than in 2011.
However, many agencies are still struggling to tally up cost savings, the reported stated.
Thirty-one agencies said planning is still underway to fully measure cost-savings and another 16 agencies reported that they have no way to track savings.
“While agencies have made impressive advancements in goal-setting and assessment since the last report, establishing cost savings through telework will remain a work in progress over the next several years,” the report concluded.
In a report issued in July, the Government Accountability Office found gaps in some of the data compiled in OPM’s 2011 report, in part because many agencies hadn’t yet developed a method of tracking telework participation or savings.
OPM, working with agency payroll providers, is working to roll out an automated system for tracking and collecting telework data, an effort that has been in the works since last July.