An IG report has said that a telework expansion pilot project at SSA has had a mixed impact on customer service, with teleworking field office employees performing “slightly less as well” as non-teleworkers, but teleworking teleservice center employees performing “slightly better.”

The IG was reviewing the project–which began in late 2015 and as of January this year involved about 16 percent of field office employees, 19 percent of teleservice center employees and 64 percent of hearing office employees–at the request of the House Ways and Means Committee, which has primary jurisdiction over the SSA. It allows employees in the former two subdivisions to telework one day per week and hearing office staff to telework up to four days a week, varying by occupation.

As part of the test, SSA compiled and monitored data for various service indicators, said the report, but the data “did not definitively support a conclusion that telework affected public service” either way. Management officials noted that “multiple factors affect productivity, regardless of telework,” including staffing levels, customer demographics, variations in workload volume, and availability of funds for overtime.

Also, officials said that they “recognized various telework challenges”–such as a reduction in staff available to meet the public face-to-face in offices, and added complexity in scheduling in-office training–and are working to resolve them. “SSA needs to establish a business plan that monitors telework productivity to ensure it will timely identify and correct trends that may negatively affect customer service,” the report said.

However, the report added that in a survey of SSA teleworkers, 68 percent said they completed more work while teleworking, 78 percent said they feel more satisfied with their job, 90 percent said they saw no difference in communication with a supervisor when needed, and 67 percent reported no problems in accessing the agency’s systems remotely.