With apologies to Anne Tyler …
Today through Friday is National Telework Week, supported by the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council and endorsed by a resolution of the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners. Last Friday, I unintentionally joined the throng of telecommuters, when big news — in the form of Congressman Norm Dicks announcing he won’t seek another term — landed in the Kitsap Sun’s inbox. Reporters who might have been first pick to do the story were otherwise occupied here and there, and although I was just about to hop in my car and come into the office, the editors instructed me to just start calling our contacts from home.
I don’t mind working from home, except when the cat sits on my computer. The last time he did this, he activated some robotic voice that gave me verbal notice of everything I already knew I was doing … “Opening new window … Checking email …” It was driving me crazy. I had to do a search to find out how to turn it off (it’s the F5 key by the way), and I found there were 13 other people who had the same problem.
The Telework Exchange — a “public-private partnership focused on demonstrating the tangible value of telework and serving the emerging educational and communication requirements of the Federal teleworker community” — reports that during last year’s Telework Week, nearly 40,000 people nationwide pledged to be involved, saving $2,730,229 on commuting costs and 148,692 hours in commuting time. Participants also saved the air from 1,818 tons of pollutants that would otherwise have accrued during 3,764,001 miles of driving.
So far this year, there are 65,816 pledges and the expected results are incrementally impressive.
In Kitsap County, a formal push for telework dates to May 2008, when the Washington State Legislature provided $150,000 in funding for the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council to conduct a Telework Kitsap Pilot Project. The project ran for 15 months, May 2008 through June 2009, with funding administered through the Washington State Department of Transportation.
Employers, IT executives, and HR executives with prior teleworking knowledge and experience were invited to serve on a panel of experts. A total of 13 organizations participated, including Microsoft, Kitsap Transit, Kitsap Regional Library, Kitsap Credit Union, Olympic College, City of Poulsbo, Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue, Municipal Research and Services Center, Kitsap Peninsula Visitor Convention Bureau, Kitsap Homebuilders Association, Wet Apple Media, McClure Consulting, Olympic Printer Resources.
The KRCC has not tracked the number of telecommuters since the end of the pilot, but Vicky Clarke, KRCC’s telework coordinator, said anecdotal evidence suggests “telework is increasingly seen as an accepted alternative to more traditional office cultures.”
“I’m sure that research could confirm that private sector employers are farther ahead that then the public sector,” Clarke said. “New technologies are making telework easier, rapidly. Increased gas prices are an incentive for workers. Telework allows us to work anywhere, work more and be more flexible, which is a useful tool in this ‘do more with less’ moment we’re living through.”
The Telework Kitsap pilot group presented a report about what they learned to the state Legislature. Another upshot was a Telework Toolkit, with information for employers and employees on how to have a successful telework program, because let’s face it, the biggest fear may be that employees will sit around in their ‘jammies playing video games or watching soap operas.
OK, that’s a bit of hyperbole, but at least in my experience, the potential for reduced productivity — think cat on the computer or kids believing you have the day off and are there to serve their every need — is a fact of life with telecommuting.
Perhaps you weren’t aware that efforts to enhance teleworking date back to a law passed in 2000, requiring all executive agencies to establish telework policies.
President Obama signed into law the Telework Enhancement Act in December 2010. “The law requires each executive agency to establish a policy under which employees may be authorized to telework to the maximum extent possible without diminishing employee performance or agency operations,” the Telework Exchange reports.
Besides reducing pollution, a habit of teleworking allows public agencies to weather the odd freak snowstorm or other natural disaster, supporters of the bill and local KRCC officials note.
Clarke is taking reports that 50,000 of Telework Weeks 65,000 pledging teleworkers are federal employees with a grain of salt. “It’s important to acknowledge that a lot of the Telework Exchange’s outreach and advocacy around telework is targeted primarily to public agencies and federal agencies in particular,” Clarke said. “The Federal Telework Enhancement Act was a big ramp up for agencies that did not have any telework policies or procedures in place, and those that handle a lot of secure information/personal data.”
Clearly, there are advantages for the worker and the employer. Pulling together a large complex project? A day away from the hubbub of the office can be a blessing. And in our line of work, I can’t imagine not being able to do one’s job not just from home but from the county courthouse, a city council meeting or snowy road, in short wherever the news is happening.
One main disadvantage often cited is that there is nothing that can replace face-to-face collaboration, not even a teleconference or Skype.
By now, the concept of telecommuting has become familiar. It would seem that those who are inclined (or required) to embrace it have already done so, but as Valentine’s Day is to relationships, so Telework Day serves as a chance to recommit. KRCC and the National Telework Exhange offer a host of suggestions for organizations/ companies and their employees.
For those thinking of taking the plunge, the Telework Exchange has a telework value calculator and an online eligibility gizmo among other handy tools and resources.
Do you telecommute? If so, how’s it working for you? What are the advantages and pitfalls?
If you’re a private business owner, have you encouraged telecommuting among your employees? How’s that going? Have you done a cost-benefit analysis? And does the existence of a federal telecommuting law for public agencies have any impact on your inclination toward incorporating telecommuting in your business practices?