Consumer advice

Government Workers Skip Telecommuting Opportunity

U.S. government employees have a telecommuting gap -- nearly all of them could work from home at least part time, but only about 20 percent do, according to a survey released Tuesday.

More than four in 10 survey respondents were unaware if they were eligible to telecommute, according to the survey released by Telework Exchange. But 96 percent of the U.S. government employees who filled out an online quiz from the group could telework at least part time, and 79 percent could telework full time, the survey said.

A three-day-a-week government telecommuter could save an average of US$5,878 a year in commuting costs and avoid putting 9,060 pounds of pollutants into the environment, according to Telework Exchange.

If the 79 percent of U.S. government employees eligible to telework full time actually did, they would save $13.9 billion in commuting costs and spare the environment 21.5 billion pounds of pollutants, the study said.

"The point here is that telework saves money, it saves the environment," said Joel Brunson, president of Tandberg Federal, a video conferencing software and services vendor that helped fund the survey. "Telework is the panacea for a lot of the ills out there."

The U.S. Congress passed a law in 2000 requiring federal agencies to offer telecommuting as an option to many employees, but it's been slow to catch on in practice. Advocates of telework say it can provide government agencies several benefits, including a way to remotely continue operations during a natural disaster or terrorist attack. Telecommuting can also ease the enormous traffic problems in the Washington, D.C., area, advocates say.

Government employees need access to a good broadband connection and support such as a help desk in order to telecommute successfully, Brunson said. But it's easier than ever to telework, with broadband, mobile e-mail, easy-to-use video conferencing and other services readily available, he added.

"Telework has grown leaps and bounds from five years ago," he said. "With the prevalence of broadband service out there, there are a lot of tools we have that we didn't have five years ago. With today's technology, [video conferencing] is pretty rock solid and almost utility-like."

Employees have some responsibility to show they can telework, he added. They must prove they can work without on-site supervision and still meet deadlines, Brunson said.

This is the third government-focused telework survey done by Telework Exchange and Tandberg Federal since early 2007. The most recent survey had 664 responses, 70 percent from civilian government agencies, and 30 percent from Department of Defense employees.

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