Telework Technology

State and local governments have been forced to take a hard look at whether all workers need to come into the office each day to get their work done. The resounding answer has been that in many cases, allowing employees to work remotely improves productivity and aids retention.

The twin problems of surging gas prices and road congestion can make commuting to the office every day impractical or unappealing. Public-sector organizations can’t scrimp on remote-access technologies and stay competitive. Some employees simply can’t afford to commute to the office; for others, work/life balance makes the commute untenable.

What’s surprising is that many IT managers report that with a solid remote-access platform in place, they’re seeing increases in productivity during the day, additional access after business hours and a reduction in turnover rates. Just ask Jeffrey Porter.

“Productivity goes up,” says Porter, the IT platform director for Fairfax County, Va. The county is no newcomer to telework. About 1,400 of its workers telecommute at least once per month and many have the opportunity to work remotely as often as once per week. “Our employees are dedicated to public service, so in the case of inclement weather, staff can log in from home or from telework centers,” explains Porter.

Telework has improved retention for Utah’s Department of Workforce Services. The Salt Lake City office has a 15 percent turnover rate for office workers, while the turnover rate for telecommuters is just 2 percent, according to Greg Gardner, deputy director of the agency. The telework arrangement has other benefits: Teleworkers are more productive and perform 10 to 15 percent more work than their office counterparts, says Gardner.

In 2006, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) piloted the “virtual office” concept, where employees work from home or in a state office closer to their homes 50 to 100 percent of the time.

The AHCCCS, which provides health-care coverage to the state’s Medicaid population, low-income residents and small businesses, started with 28 teleworkers in the pilot. Today, 350 AHCCCS employees work from a virtual office. While the employees save money on gas, business attire and child care, telework also saves the state money by reducing the wear and tear on roads. As more employees telework, Arizona CIO Chris Cummiskey hopes to save additional funds by reducing the amount of office space the state needs to rent or purchase.

Boulder, Colo., is particularly interested in telework because the environmentally conscious city is running out of office space, says Eileen Gomez, human resources director. “We also want to be more family friendly and give people more flexibility,” she says.

But a successful telework program can’t happen without reliable and secure remote-access technologies. That’s where IT comes in to ensure teleworkers stay productive and have the same access to systems, data and their coworkers that they had in the office. For more, read our cover story, “Bringing the Office Home,” on Page 28.

Lee Copeland, Editor in Chief

Sep 30 2008