To telework or not to telework—that is the business case question
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To telework or not to telework—that is the business case question

June 18, 2024

Centuries ago, Hamlet asked, “To be or not to be?”

These days, the question on the mind of every organizational leader is, “To telework or not to telework…or to do remote work…or to go hybrid?” The possibilities are endless, but, in government, the issue of where employees sit while they work boils down to one question: Are they getting the job done, driving outcomes for the country and giving the public a strong return on its tax investment?

Our government should recruit and retain the best people regardless of how agencies choose to manage their workforce. Like the private sector, the federal government needs highly qualified employees, well-trained managers and leaders, and strong service delivery to achieve its goals.

Focusing on whether employees sit in an office or have a more flexible schedule doesn’t drive outcomes—the processes and resources needed to accomplish the mission should be the top priority regardless of where employees do the job.

Understanding the landscape 

In the private sector, some form of telework has become the norm.  

In October 2023, for instance, 50% of employees worked in a hybrid environment, and four in five chief human resources officers of Fortune 500 companies believed remote work flexibility would continue for at least the next 12 months. 

More than 20 states have developed statutes or regulations that address public sector telework, and a March 2023 study also estimated that one in five Americans will work completely remote by 2025. 

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that offering telework flexibilities benefits both companies and employees. Consider these facts:  

  • A monthly survey conducted of more than 30,000 workers in 2021 found that nearly six out of 10 workers reported being more productive at home, with 75% or more of the productivity gains being attributed to a reduction in commute time. This same report noted that U.S. workers commuted a total of 62.5 million fewer hours per workday as a result of the shift to increased  telework. 
  • In 2022, the head of one human resources software company said that private sector employers can save approximately $11,000 per employee by offering remote work options due to reduced costs associated with office space, utilities and other resources.  
  • Statewide public sector telework programs implemented in Utah, Tennessee and Washington have saved millions of taxpayer dollars. 
  • More than three-quarters of high-growth companies reported higher productivity levels from hybrid work, according to a 2021 report.  

Outlining the benefits for hybrid work flexibilities 

By offering some combination of in-person work, remote work, telework and hybrid work flexibilities, federal agencies can stay competitive with the private sector. 

A 2022 study found that 89% of people employed in computer and mathematical occupations, and 86% of people in business or financial operations roles, report having remote work options.

Previous research has also shown that hybrid employees have the highest levels of employee engagement and satisfaction, with more than four in five reporting “high engagement” compared with 78% of remote employees and 72% of on-site employees.

Given that employee engagement and satisfaction in the federal government continues to lag behind the private sector, this finding is especially important for agencies to consider as they look to recruit and retain top talent.   

Measuring telework effectiveness through performance: Suggestions for agencies 

Our government needs an engaged, high-performing federal workforce to tackle immense challenges facing our nation. Employees can and must be held accountable, and agencies should clearly align telework with organizational performance goals to ensure productivity in the workplace. 

There are various key performance indicators companies use to measure success in a hybrid environment, including task completion, quality of work, response times, error rate, revenue generated and adherence to deadlines.  

The federal government should use these key performance indicators to ensure its employees successfully telework. When full time remote and hybrid employees aren’t working effectively, then managers should hold them accountable and potentially change their workplace flexibilities.  

Telework is not a right, but a tool to compete for top talent, maximize productivity and enable employees to work where they are most efficient, especially in mission-critical positions. By using key performance indicators and clear performance plans, establishing regular check-ins with trained supervisors on effective telework and fostering open dialogue with employees, agencies can create a more productive workforce that better serves American taxpayers.  

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