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Telework on the Rise
Top Reasons More Are Choosing To Work Away from Work

By Carla Garnett

On the Front Page...

It's not as if anyone needs added incentive to roll out of bed a little later, spend a few extra minutes with the family, steer clear of rush-hour traffic or accomplish a day's work virtually uninterrupted. No, the reason that telework is growing — but still only slowly — could be that few employees realize the option may be available to them. However, as campus parking spaces become rarer this fall, more people may be seeking — and more managers and supervisors encouraging — ways to work away from work. The trend is picking up speed at NIH and throughout government.


According to a recent Office of Personnel Management report on teleworking, seven agencies with 1,000 or more employees increased the number of teleworkers by at least 36 percent. Two of those — the National Science Foundation (135 percent) and the National Archives and Records Administration (111 percent) — improved by more than 100 percent. Teleworking at the other five also grew impressively: Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (74 percent), Treasury (69 percent), Veterans Affairs (48 percent), and the departments of Education and Health and Human Services (36 percent).

Of HHS's 68,777 employees, nearly 10 percent of its total workforce teleworks. The 77 responding agencies reported that as of December 2002, more than 90,000 employees telework, which represents a 21 percent increase from November 2001. The agencies said just over 625,300 eligible employees (35 percent of the federal workforce) — a 20 percent increase from those eligible in 2001 — telework.

At NIH, more than "1,231 people are in telework arrangements," according to Alisa Green, NIH telework coordinator, who recently surveyed institutes and centers on the issue. "Of these, 498 are 'regular' (meaning they have a relatively fixed telework schedule), and 687 are 'episodic' (varied according to needs of the individual and the workgroup). The rest are for medical or other temporary accommodations. This is in comparison to August 2002, when we had 651 teleworkers overall, 316 in regular and 294 in episodic arrangements. So although the numbers aren't overwhelming, the curve up is pretty steep!" The survey included reports from all but three ICs.

De-Stressed and Un-Pressed

Naturally individual motives and goals vary, but compiled below — in a decidedly unscientific study of several NIH'ers who have already taken the plunge — are the top reasons telework is growing here. Can you guess what benefit most of them list first? Hint: They don't get lonely.

"The biggest advantage is that I can accomplish much more at home than in the office, since I am not interrupted at home," notes Richard Crosland, an NINDS scientific review administrator who lives in Frederick and has teleworked for about 3 years. "This is especially true of work such as summary statements. Of course, there is a large stress reduction since 1 hour of commuting causes the same stress as 3 hours of work, and the commute from Frederick is 1 hour each way. I save some gas, and there is one less car polluting the air."

Cheryl Moxley of CIT helped pioneer teleworking at NIH.

"No interruptions," also tops the list of Cheryl Moxley, a CIT telecommunications specialist who was the first person to telework at NIH in 1997. A resident of Harper's Ferry, W.Va., her roundtrip commute topped 112 miles daily before she was able to arrange an alternative work place and schedule. Now, she says, she is "much more productive, and has less stress and no traffic." Since her experience, six of her coworkers now telecommute too.

Pam Jones, chief of the scientific publications section in NINDS's information office, offers a similar rationale. "A busy information office is usually not a good place to find uninterrupted quiet time," she notes. "Working from home, I can often get through an editing assignment in half the time it would take in the office. Questions from coworkers that I'm not answering because I'm not available for a 'quick pop-in visit' can usually be answered the next day. And anyone who needs to know something immediately can call me at home or send me an email. If I'm editing or writing, I try to check my email every 15 minutes so I have these little blocks of silent time throughout the day. Silence truly is golden."

Thalene Mallus, an IT specialist for the NIMH Laboratory of Brain and Cognition, and a parent of two children ages 3 and 5, treasures the peace of mind and family time she has gained by teleworking every Friday since 1999.

Camera shy Pam Jones of NINDS models business chic for the telework set.

"There are numerous advantages to telework," she says, "but probably the biggest for me is the alleviation of stress. I can have breakfast with my children on Fridays, walk them to school, visit them at lunch if I choose, and pick them up [earlier]. There is a huge reduction in tension. I don't have to worry about the traffic, packing lunches or ironing clothes for the next day. Working from home is blissfully quiet (just me and the dog) and I can really get down to business without the typical office interruptions (impromptu meetings and drop-ins) that normally break up my day."

Jones agrees, "The personal advantages are many. As an example, I help care for my elderly father, who lives alone about 4 miles from my house. On Thursdays, I can use my lunch break to pick up whatever he needs that day — a prescription, for instance — and take it to him, visit for a while and get back to work without worrying about finding a parking place. Avoiding the morning and evening commute is, of course, a huge benefit. And, rolling out of bed at 7:25, logging onto my computer and being ready to work at 7:30 is wonderful — pink fuzzy slippers and all."

Settling Terms

The concept of teleworking has given birth to a whole new language. Some employees "telecommute" for a certain portion of their tours of duty. When Moxley began in the program, she went to the Jefferson County TeleCenter in Ranson, W.Va., where she used a networked PC to connect to her NIH clients and perform her job. Nearly 20 such GSA satellite centers are now open in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. Some employees use computer setups in their own homes. The alternative work sites are called "flexi places." In many cases all that is needed is a high-speed Internet connection, and compliance with standard IT security measures.

Often, teleworkers — along with their supervisors and coordinators — can also rearrange their tours of duty to better accommodate their new situations. The various configurations are known as "alternative work schedules" (AWS) or "flexi tours." Organizations and offices often customize their telework and AWS policies for best results.

Satisfied Customers

"The results of an April 2003 survey of NIMH telework participants and supervisors indicate that the program has had a positive effect," according to Robert Willcoxon, an NIMH management analyst who coordinates telework for the institute. "Most participants report both increased job satisfaction and productivity, while the majority of supervisors report an increase in the job satisfaction of their teleworking employees and no change in their productivity. The majority of supervisors also report no impact in morale or productivity among their staff as a whole, including those who are not teleworking." In FY 2003, he said, 46 NIMH employees have been approved to telework — almost 6 percent of the total NIMH staff.

As managers seek more ways to benefit both individuals and the workplace as a whole, many find that telecommuting can be a valuable tool in other areas of an organization's quality of worklife program, including easing the parking crunch. Hence, some ICs plan even bigger pushes in the months to come.

NINDS telework coordinator Liz Elliott

"Telework is an innovative business solution that gives both employers and employees flexibility by allowing employees to work outside the office," said Liz Elliott, a management analyst who serves as the telework coordinator for six employees at NINDS. "It's part of a continuing transformation of the workplace. It's here to stay. It's vital to get the word out and educate potential teleworkers and their supervisors about policy, procedures, eligibility criteria and resources available to them to promote a successful telework plan. We plan to communicate to all our employees through email and meetings. We also have resources available on our Intranet. Over time, I believe there will be a positive impact on teleworking, or 'work redesign' as we also see this."

What is important in deciding to offer or participate in flexible work arrangements, says Elliott, is that the organization's goals and mission remain the top priority. "The employee's work and productivity have to be balanced with the needs of the individual organization," she stressed.

"It's going to take a kind of paradigm shift among managers," says David Whitmer, executive officer and director of the Division of Management Services at the Center for Scientific Review, who evaluated the telework program at NHLBI and facilitates the CSR telework program. "Telework requires managers to think differently about the way they manage people. It requires them to ask, 'What measurable is being delivered?' You don't need to see someone to manage them effectively. You need to determine a measurable result. The greatest barrier to telework is mid-level managers.

"There are workplace issues and morale issues to consider," he continues. "What a manager gets are employees who are generally happier. In addition, telework is an excellent recruiting and retention tool, and since we're all competing with other ICs, with other federal agencies and with the private sector for the best and brightest workers, it's a tremendous advantage to be able to offer a flexible work arrangement program."

Describing himself as both a "strong advocate for telework, but also for accountability," Whitmer adds, "I believe employees are more productive away from the worksite."

Ultimately, experienced participants stress, much of teleworking's success is built on individual relationships between employees and their supervisors: A good bond makes telework work.

"In a larger sense," Mallus concludes, "I think a huge advantage for NIH is that it boosts employee morale. In order to successfully telecommute, there must be supervisor-employee trust. I have a really great working relationship with my supervisor, and she trusts me to get my work done...and I do."

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