Following are excerpts from a recent MSPB of telework.
Efficient and effective mission accomplishment by organizations requires a foundation of highly skilled and capable employees. Because organizational success is predicated on this robust human capital foundation, organizations should foster conditions that allow employees to be at their best while they are working. Telework can function as such a condition, as it is consistent with promoting employee work/life balance, a direct benefit to employees. Indeed, “telework allows employees to better manage their work and family obligations, thereby retaining a more resilient, results-oriented Federal workforce better able to meet agency mission and goals.” Our survey results indicate that the vast majority of employee routine teleworkers believe telework has had a positive or neutral impact on their ability to balance work and nonwork life.
Further, 72 percent of employees who requested approval to telework on a routine basis—at least 2 days per pay period—indicated that the ability to better balance career and family obligations was important in their decision to request approval to telework on a routine basis. Additionally, 83 percent of supervisors who—in the last 2 years—had at least one employee who requested to telework on a routine basis (at least 2 days per pay period) indicated that their interest in supporting their employees’ ability to balance work and family was important in their decision to support or deny employees’ requests to telecommute on a routine basis. Clearly, employees and supervisors see telework as a tool for meeting the demands of employees’ personal and professional lives.
Telework can support work/life balance through reducing commutes. Consistent with supporting employees’ work/life balance, telework can reduce the travel time associated with the commute to work and its expense. This is apparently important as our survey results indicate that the majority of employees who requested approval to telework on a routine basis indicated that the amount of time that it takes to commute and the distance (number of miles) of the commute were important in their decision to request approval. It is not unreasonable to consider the potentially adverse health and emotional effects that may accompany a long commute, such as recurrent neck and back pain, and worry.
Telework can support employee work/life balance through giving employees more after-work personal time. Telework, through reducing commuting time, could also support employees’ work/life balance through providing employees with more personal time after work on telework days to attend to everyday aspects of living. In the absence of a commute on telework days, employees would have more personal time after work to attend to basic daily needs such as grocery shopping, cooking, time with family or friends, hobbies, education, exercise, and sleep. While such conditions would naturally be desirable to employees, they could also be valuable to organizations to the extent that better work/life balance allows employees to focus more on work while they are working.
Telework can support employee work/life balance through allowing employees to work when they believe they are most capable. To the extent that organizations can merge telework with flexibility in scheduling employee work hours, telework could allow employees to work hours when they are most capable. Individuals perform the best when they feel at their best, and telework could assist employees in identifying the daily timeframe that would be most productive for them. Of course, any flexibility or change in work hours would need to be at the discretion of the supervisor and approved in advance to ensure adequate office coverage and to prevent adverse impact on work unit operations and performance. While such flexible work-hour scheduling in the office may already be offered in some organizations, the key difference here is combining this option with telework. It is important to recognize that many individuals cannot participate in the in-the-office flexible scheduling because of transportation, family, or other considerations that prohibit them from physically being in the office during alternative times that may be more productive for them. Telework could bridge this incompatibility and allow all employees to have equal access to flexible scheduling.
Similarly, merging telework with flexible scheduling could support employee work/life balance by enabling employees to work nonsequential hours during the day and to use approved breaks from work to attend to personal matters. For example, an employee could be permitted to work at home from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., go off work time to attend a college class and do homework, and then resume work from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Consider also that an employee who normally works from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. could be permitted to take a 2-hour break and go off work time for a doctor appointment, but instead of taking leave, could then be permitted to make up the hours by resuming work until 6 p.m. Again, while some organizations already provide this flexibility, not all individuals may be able to participate when they are at the office because of the previously mentioned commuting challenges or other restraints.
Summary of Work/Life Balance Direct Benefits for Employees. Telework can bring direct benefits to employees in terms of work/life balance which can help employees better balance their professional and personal schedules. Although valuable, as with the direct benefits to organizations, telework’s direct benefits to employees do not necessarily make the business case for telework on their own. This is because such benefits, although of everyday significance, are primarily focused on accommodating employees’ needs and interests. They do not, by themselves, necessarily address organizational needs. However, as we discuss in the next section, we contend that direct benefits to employees in work/life balance can have significant indirect benefits for the Federal Government in a more everyday manner. It is in these indirect benefits that the real value of telework becomes apparent to organizations.
Indirect Benefits of Telework for Organizations
Employee Recruitment. Telework, by virtue of facilitating employee work/life balance, can have everyday indirect benefits for organizations through supporting their recruitment strategies. Efficient and effective mission accomplishment requires organizations to be able to successfully recruit and hire highly capable talent. To do this, organizations must be attentive to what prospective (and current) employees are looking for in an employer, and be able to offer such features to employees. Since many employees desire work/life balance, telework— through supporting this balance—could serve as such an attractive employer feature. Indeed, in light of competition both within the Federal Government for talent and between the Federal Government and the private sector, organizations that can offer and openly discuss telework opportunities can have a competitive advantage.
Results of our survey indicate that the majority of supervisors stated that telework has had a positive impact on their organization’s ability to recruit high quality employees. Similarly, 59 percent of supervisors who had employees who requested to telework on a routine basis indicated that the need to be an attractive employer that can recruit and retain high quality employees was important in their decision to support or deny employees’ requests. Thus, it appears that telework can support an organization’s ability to recruit desired talent.
Telework can support the recruitment and accommodation of individuals with disabilities. Telework can also serve as a valuable recruitment tool through enabling the Federal Government to benefit from the skills and capabilities of individuals with disabilities. Telework can also help address the needs of these workers.27 Indeed, “telework may be used as a reasonable accommodation for an individual with a disability who may require, or prefer, to work at home. While not all persons with disabilities need, or want, to work from home, telework provides a viable option for individuals with disabilities that affect mobility or pose related challenges.” While a full discussion of this topic is beyond the scope of this report, it is clear that by eliminating or significantly reducing the requirement to be physically at the worksite, telework can enable the Government to better benefit from the capabilities that individuals with disabilities have to offer.
Telework can allow for an expanded recruitment pool. Appealing to employee work/life balance needs may also allow the Federal Government to expand its recruitment pipeline to hire individuals with desirable talent from areas located beyond the feasible commuting area. This would include those with desirable talent who cannot relocate or who have commitments or circumstances that would make it challenging or infeasible for them to work at the office location. Widening the recruitment area would be likely to translate into better applicant pools for positions, in terms of both the number of applicants and the range of applicant qualifications. Such a practice is consistent with the first merit system principle. It also supports the Government’s ability to foster innovation in the workforce. This benefit could be especially helpful for filling mission-critical jobs, and for allowing the Government to benefit from individuals with unique skill sets. Further, broadening the recruitment and hiring area could also help the Government to be more representative of the diverse nation which it serves.
Employee Retention. Telework, through supporting employee work/life balance, can also have everyday indirect benefits for organizations through functioning as a valuable strategy for retaining highly capable employees. Just as efficient and effective mission accomplishment requires an organization to be able to attract highly capable individuals, it also requires an organization to retain them. This is especially true when the organization has invested in employee training and development, as well as when employees have specialized experience and mission-critical skill sets. Further, competition for talent doesn’t end once an employee comes onboard; current employees are also attentive to what other employers offer compared to their current employer. Therefore, as with prospective employees, current employees are likely to be interested in work/life balance and attracted to employers who can offer work arrangements such as telework that support this balance. Indeed, of those employees who planned to remain in their current organization/agency, move to another Federal organization/ agency, resign from the Federal Government and seek a non-Federal job, or retire in the next 2 years, the majority indicated that the opportunity to telework was important in their decision to remain in or leave (move, resign, or retire) their current organization/agency.
Further, 86 percent of employee routine teleworkers indicated that their experience as teleworkers has had a positive impact on their satisfaction with their job and organization. Additionally, 81 percent of employee routine teleworkers indicated that their experience as teleworkers has had a positive impact on their desire to stay in their organization.
Telework and Productivity and Performance
Organizations bring people together to accomplish a mission, provide a service, generate products, or achieve a combination of such purposes. Organizational performance requires effective policies, practices, and procedures. It also requires employees who successfully meet performance expectations. Thus, regardless of potential benefits, we would not expect organizations to be willing to adopt an initiative that posed a reasonable risk of negative impact on employee performance or organizational performance. Telework does not appear to pose such a risk, if implemented and managed appropriately.
Teleworker Productivity and Performance. Our survey results suggest that telework can be conducive for maintaining employee productivity and performance. Specifically, 86 percent of employees who requested approval to telework on a routine basis indicated their view that they could be more productive at home was important in their decision to request approval. Similarly, 83 percent of employees who requested approval to telework on a routine basis indicated that having fewer interruptions at home was important in their decision. This suggests that employees view telework as more than just a work place flexibility; they see it as a means to work effectively for the organization. Further, the vast majority of employee routine teleworkers indicated that their experience as a teleworker has had a positive or neutral impact on their personal productivity and performance, and their amount of stress related to work matters.
Nonteleworker Productivity and Performance. For the most part, our survey results indicate that the majority of employee nonteleworkers believe that telework has had a neutral or positive impact on their work-related outcomes.