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Telework boosts productivity, decreases carbon footprint

Oct. 31, 2010 - 06:00AM   |  
By Martha Johnson   |   Comments

Following are edited excerpts of an Oct. 7 speech by Martha Johnson, General Services Administration administrator, before the Telework Exchange:

I often say, "Work is what you do, not where you are." I also could say, "Telework is who I am." I came into government from CSC [Computer Sciences Corp.] where I worked for the CEO on corporate culture. My colleagues were in the U.K., Australia, India and the West Coast. I never met some of them, but we were online all the time. After a while, it is silly to get up, get dressed and drive all the way to Falls Church, Va., to call India. Do it from home. It's 4:30 a.m. I didn't know it was called "teleworking." At CSC, it was just called "working."

My first GSA experience was teleworking: I was sworn in by phone from my kitchen during the blizzard last winter. So, telework is still "who I am," and it is also for GSA about "who we are."

The president sees GSA as a strategic asset. We are engaged in forwarding the mission of the Open Government Directive. We are investing in infrastructure and sustainable design and construction with funds from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. And we are taking the lead on some sustainability priorities. GSA has aligned around a bold vision: achieving a zero environmental footprint.

Telework is an important lever in that work. It reduces our own footprint in employee commuting and in office space requirements. It teaches us how to position our governmentwide policies to reduce the footprint across government.

GSA's analytics on telework show that, depending on the size of the program, there is a 200 percent to 1,500 percent return on the initial technological investment after adopting a telework system, thanks to increased productivity, reduced absenteeism, lower real estate costs and reduced recruitment and retention needs.

Telework also cuts down on commuting costs and time. A recent study by the Telework Exchange showed that the average federal employee spends $138 on fuel costs per month, yet by teleworking the average savings was $55.52 per month.

I met a GSA employee in our New York office who commutes three hours. Each way. Every day. I'd like to explore telework options for employees like her. Reducing those commutes alone would go miles toward carbon savings, toward cost savings, and toward boosting agency productivity.

The president has asked GSA to lead a governmentwide cut of at least $3 billion worth of unneeded space by 2012. Telework will be important in achieving this cost reduction and consolidation strategy.

At GSA, we have an expert team developing guidance to assist agencies to save space, facility dollars and increase sustainability. The team is named SUGAR: Space Utilization Guidelines and Recommendations.

Telework succeeds if the participants have social media tools to stay connected easily. Our Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies is doing cutting-edge work to provide collaborative, participatory technologies to our customer agencies in line with the Open Government Directive. These tools can be used by agencies to help create the virtual workplace and develop seamless telework programs.

GSA has 13 telework centers in the Washington area. Eighty-five percent of our employees are eligible to telework, and of those, 48 percent telework two or more days per pay period. We have been recognized as the second leading government agency for telework participation, and we are aiming for 60 percent of all employees teleworking two or more days per pay period.

Our experience is also backed up by a pilot program that we recently ran out of our Kansas City office. This 90-day project moved 42 employees to telework. Two-thirds of them had the option to telework five days per week.

Our results were great. Seventy-seven percent of participants reported that their productivity had increased. Sick leave went down 69 percent, saving on average 14 hours of work time per employee. Peer-to-peer communication increased almost 55 percent.

The bonus of this pilot? The work group predicts a reduction of 30 metric tons of CO2 thanks to reduced commuting.

This pilot and other research have taught us [that] telework is best when an entire group does it together, when they are empowered by collaborative technologies, and when there is a "watercooler manager" who facilitates social networking. There needs to be a "just do it" attitude across the organization.

Martha Johnson is administrator of the General Services Administration.

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