Issue Briefs

Following is the executive summary of OPM’s latest annual report on telework in the federal workforce, showing that while the percentage of employees deemed eligible for telework has flattened off, the share of those eligible who actually do telework continues to increase slightly.

Since 2010, when Congress passed the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, Federal agencies have made remarkable progress in developing and utilizing telework programs to achieve mission objectives. The Telework Enhancement Act mandated that OPM provide an annual report to Congress addressing the telework programs of each Executive agency (5 U.S.C. § 6506). The current report fulfills OPM’s reporting requirements for fiscal year 2016 and provides information on telework trends over a multi-year period, including 2011-2016.

This report includes a number of key findings: (1) employee eligibility to participate in telework is relatively stable; (2) employee participation in telework programs has steadily increased; (3) telework data collection is transitioning to more accurate methods; (4) agencies are leveraging telework to achieve critical goals, including in the areas of emergency pre­paredness, employee attitudes, recruitment, and retention; (5) agencies struggle to assess cost savings achieved through telework; and (6) agency leaders are actively promoting telework using strategic approaches.

Telework Eligibility is Relatively Stable

The percentage of employees who are eligible to telework remains relatively stable and does not appear to be increasing. In 2016, about 42 percent of Federal employees were eligible to telework compared with 44 percent reported in 2015. As we have consistently and regularly advised agencies, OPM again recommends that agencies support the use of telework by regularly reassessing individual employee eligibility determinations. Agencies are encouraged to pay particular attention to determinations made in the early stages of telework implementation or determinations that have not otherwise been recently updated in order to foster current and accurate determinations of telework eligibility.

Telework Participation Has Increased

Telework participation has continued to increase steadily over time. From 2015 to 2016, telework participation increased from 20 percent to 22 percent of all employees and from 46 to 51 percent of eligible employees. Situational telework remains the most common form of telework participation, with nearly half of teleworkers engaging in situational telework to some degree.

Telework Data Collection is Transitioning to More Accurate Methods

Agencies are investing in more accurate, systematic methods of telework data collection. In 2016, most agencies relied on data from their time and attendance system (66 percent of agencies) or time and attendance system together with a customized tracking system (10 percent) to track telework participation. This transition is partly attributable to OPM’s efforts to improve telework reporting through the Enterprise Human Resources Integration (EHRI) database. Nevertheless, challenges to accurate data collection are widespread, and OPM expects agencies to align their systems with OPM data standards and provide training on telework reporting to their employees and managers.

Agencies are Using Telework to Achieve Valuable Goals

Agencies set goals and achieved both participation and outcome goals.

Overall, 60 percent of agencies met at least one of their participation goals previously set for fiscal year 2016. Agencies were most likely to achieve total participation goals and least likely to meet goals centered on frequent routine use of telework (i.e., three or more days per two-week period). For fiscal year 2017, 84 percent of agencies set at least one participation goal. Agencies are increasingly likely to set both total participation and frequency of participation goals (71 percent of agencies did so for fiscal year 2017).

The most common outcome goal areas were similar to those in previous years and included goals related to emergency preparedness (59 percent of agencies); improved employee attitudes (55 percent); recruit­ment (41 percent); and retention (40 percent). Fewer agencies set goals for the following: reduced employee commute miles (27 percent of agencies); improved employee performance (17 percent); reduced real estate costs (13 percent); and reduced energy use (13 percent).

Agencies Struggle to Assess Cost-Savings

Several agencies reported cost savings achieved through telework, especially in the areas of transit/commuting (14 percent of agencies) and rent/office space (10 percent). However, agencies still experience significant challenges in assessing cost-savings. A majority of agencies (56 percent) reported an inability to track cost savings. The most common barriers included the lack of a system to track telework cost savings; difficulty isolating costs associated specifically with telework; and lack of access to data (e.g., utility costs are managed and tracked by the landlord of an agency’s facilities). OPM is working with agency leaders to address challenges and to improve data collection and tracking on cost savings.

Agency Leaders Are Actively Promoting Telework

Leadership support is critical for the success of telework programs. Agencies reported a wide range of management efforts to promote telework. The most common strategies were as follows: emphasizing telework as part of continuity of operations (79 percent of agencies); advocating telework in agency-wide meetings (57 percent); sending agency-wide emails of support (44 percent); and aligning telework with strategic goals/mission (43 percent). Many agencies reported additional efforts such as telework policy updates, strategic planning, and improved data collection and monitoring.

Agency efforts to promote and improve telework programs are also reflected in results from the 2016 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. Survey responses show that, compared to employees who do not telework due to a barrier, tele­workers report more positive attitudes about accountability (85 percent versus 78 percent), engagement (70 percent versus 61 percent), retention intent (68 percent versus 62 percent), and innovation (65 percent versus 52 percent).