Over the last several years telework has driven virtual collaboration and teleconferences which have replaced costly business travel, caused desk assignments to vanish and be replaced with “hoteling” policies, and at-home offices to replace time-consuming commutes.  But, when it comes to Federal agencies, many are still struggling to make telework a reality due to several real, but surmountable obstacles.

Telework enables employees to work from home, while travelling, or even at a client’s location while having the same access to email, data, and applications they need to do their job.  In a recent Federal telework report that Citrix developed with Global Workplace Analytics, Citrix surveyed more than 100 Federal telework coordinators and other government executives with telework-related responsibilities.  The survey found that respondents found easier access to online files, more collaboration tolls, and access to video conferencing, the top technology initiatives that would impact their agency’s program.  Overall, the report found that many obstacles and opportunities remain as agencies work to fully realize the benefits of telework.  Additionally, some examples of these valuable benefits include:

  • Cost savings:  $6.4 billion a year in Federal government
  • Reduced absenteeism:  31 percent as calculated by the Telework Savings Calculator
  • Increased productivity:  13 percent as calculated by the Telework Savings Calculator
  • Collaboration:  62 percent have seen a positive impact on collaboration as a result of telework at their agency

In addition to reducing costs, enhancing employee satisfaction and collaboration, and providing flexible work style alternatives, telework offers benefits in other areas such as continuity of operations (COOP) in natural disasters.  And, as we approach our worst weather months, keeping Uncle Sam at work during potential bad weather is top of mind for Federal agencies.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated the entire five year cost of implementing telework throughout government (approximately $30 million) is less than a third of the cost of lost productivity from a single day shutdown of offices due to snow in Washington, D.C.  For example, estimates show the four-day Snowmageddon shutdown in February 2010 cost the Federal government between $70 million and $100 million per day in lost productivity.  Yet, while we know of these compelling benefits, currently less than seven percent of Federal employee’s teleworked at least once a week in 2012 when nearly one third were eligible.  So what’s the hold up for Federal telework?

Agencies face numerous obstacles when implementing a telework program, such as management resistance and agency culture roadblocks.  Nearly 50 percent of respondents cited manager resistance as a very high or high impact as a barrier, and more than 30 percent cited agency culture.  And, aging, outdated, and inflexible legacy IT infrastructures make innovation nearly impossible.  Further, security continues to be one of the highest priorities that agencies struggle with when it comes to virtualizing desktops and incorporating mobile devices into the network.

Though these obstacles have caused telework to move slower than we had hoped in Federal agencies, many are paving the path to successful programs, such as the General Services Administration and U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.  These agencies have not only implemented successful and secure technology solutions, but also policies which foster a strong, supportive culture of these initiatives.

As the culture of Federal agencies continues to follow the path of technology innovation, it is without question we will continue to see them realize the benefits that telework can afford.  With the help of virtualization and enterprise mobility management solutions we will continue to see agency leadership embrace the concept that work is no longer a physical place where you are, but rather a set of objectives that you accomplish – anytime, anywhere.

Tom Simmons, Area Vice President of Public Sector for Citrix Systems is available at tom.simmons@citrix.com.