Of snowstorms and telework


OPM director John Berry has talked a lot about expanding federal telework programs — and it occurs to me that this week gives him a perfect opportunity to evangelize. Today is the second consecutive snow day for the federal government, and if tonight’s forecast is accurate, tomorrow might well be the third.

Each snow day costs the federal government $100 million — possibly more during this blizzard, because I’m sure some feds will just take the rest of the week off and give themselves a “snowcation.”

But many telecommuters are expected to work today, according to OPM — even though their physical-commuting colleagues are not. No lost productivity there. So don’t be surprised if Berry cites this blizzard in the future — a lot — while he’s talking about telework.

DC doesn’t get many snowstorms like this one, of course, but we usually get a few snow days each year — and if telework programs could reduce that $100 million in lost productivity, there’s a big potential long-term savings for the federal government.

(Plus, expanded telework would make our jobs easier: It’s tough being journalists who cover the federal government when the federal government is closed!)


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  1. Some managers will always be against telework. Sometimes for good reasons (there are very definitely some people who should never be allowed to do it and face to face contact is good), sometimes just for a power trip.

    There is a senior guy at my job who flat out would not let any of his employees do telework. He would intimidate people into not applying, and if they did he would make up excuses to disallow it. Of course, this guy didn’t even allow compressed work schedules until an employee had been on the job for 6 months to a year.

  2. Lost productivity is just the beginning. Telework offers a relatively simple, inexpensive solution to some of the world’s most vexing problems.

    Currently less than 3% of the U.S. workforce telecommutes the majority of the time (not including the self-employed), but 40% hold jobs that could be done from home. If those employees who could telecommute did so just half of the time (roughly the national average for those who already do):

    – The nation would save 453 million barrels of oil (57% of Gulf oil imports)—a national savings of $31 billion per year (at $70/barrel)
    – The environment would be saved from 84 million tons or greenhouse gases a year—that’s over 40% of President Obama’s goal for GHG reduction by 2020.
    – The energy potential from the gas savings alone would total than twice what the U.S. produces from all renewable energy source combined.
    – National productivity would increase by 6.2 million man-years or $200 billion worth of work each year.
    – Businesses would save $194 billion annually in real estate, electricity, absenteeism, and turnover.
    – Employees would individually save between $2,500 and $11,000 in transportation and work-related costs (not including daycare and eldercare costs)
    – Employees would gain back an extra 2.5 weeks worth of time per year—time they’d have otherwise spent commuting.
    – Communities would save over $3 billion in highway maintenance because 180 billion fewer miles would be driven each year.
    – 150,000 people/year would be saved from traffic-related injury or death.
    – $18 billion a year would be saved in accident-related costs.

    In total, that’s an economic impact of over $750 billion a year.

    These conclusions were derived from our web-based Telework Savings Model. Based on the latest U.S. Census American Community Survey figures and data from over a dozen authoritative studies, the model calculates what every city, county, region, Congressional District, and State in the nation could save through telework. A custom calculator allows companies to change dozens of our standard assumptions to better model their own situations. It has been used by hundreds of company and community leaders throughout the U.S. and Canada to make the case for more telework.

    Over the past several years, we have reviewed and cataloged over 250 studies on telework and related topics. We’ve interviewed dozens of virtual employers, employees, advocates, and even venture capitalists who’ve invested in the remote work model. Our research has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, Washington Post, and dozens of other publications.

    Frustrated, by managements’ reluctance to allow their employees work untethered, we aimed our popular-press book Undress For Success — The Naked Truth About Making Money at Home (John Wiley & Sons 2009), at creating a ground-up telework movement by empowering employees to negotiate, find, or create work at home opportunities. Jack Nilles, the grandfather or telework, wrote the foreword the book. It has won the praise of work-life and telework advocates including the Telework Coalition, Telework Canada, WorldatWork, and many others.

    It’s time to make the road less traveled the way to work.

    Kate Lister

  3. Happy Teleworker on

    If the government really had their COOP (continuity plans) in place, we wouldn’t need to close most agencies. Those in national security and considered essential personnel are required to get to work anyway. Those who don’t want to accommodate the government and work from home can take a leave day or LWOP. This is too costly and we should have been better prepared as STEWARDS of the taxpayer dollars. We can and SHOULD do better!

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