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Shifting How We Work

March 5, 2007 By

Cassandra Carvajal is a busy woman. She works for a major Silicon Valley company, is starting her own fashion design business, and is raising two sons alone. Teleworking, she says, is the only way she can handle such responsibilities.

"I can work in the evening and free up my day if I want to drop off my son and meet my pattern maker," she said. "So I'm able to divide my time, and I'm a lot more flexible."

Carvajal is part of a growing number of teleworkers -- or telecommuters -- who operate from home or other remote offices. According to ITAC, a telework advisory group, an estimated 45.1 million Americans worked somewhere other than their principal office in 2005. For a while, employees sought the perks of teleworking, but more recently this practice has been embraced and promoted by all levels of government, with federal, state and local municipalities posing it as a preferable way of working.

The federal government is currently trying to give one-quarter of its huge work force the option to telework. Federal law mandates that all agencies have a teleworking policy and implement it to the "maximum extent possible for eligible employees."

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management has an interagency Web site dedicated to teleworking, and since 2001, it's published The Status of Telework in the Federal Government, a report studying the trend. In 2005, the report concluded that out of the 82 participating federal agencies representing more than 1.8 million workers, 140,694 teleworked -- a 37 percent increase from the previous year, and an 88 percent increase from the survey's 2001 results indicating that 74,487 federal employees had telecommuted.

In planning for terrorist attacks and disasters, the Bush administration has made telework a central component of its Continuity of Operations Planning, and encourages state and local governments to include this strategy in disaster recovery and business continuity plans.

Employees who teleworked at least once a year grew from about 4 million in 1990 to 45 million today, said Chuck Wilsker, president and CEO of the Telework Coalition. "I think in the next five years, people telecommuting in the private and public sectors will double," he added, pointing out that the benefits of this practice not only extend to employees, but also to companies, the environment and society.

"The advantages of teleworking for the individual are improved work/life balance," Wilsker added. "They save a lot of money on commuting costs, wear and tear on the car, and reduce stress from not having to commute."

The Telework Coalition claims the benefits for companies with a telework force are increased productivity and motivation, and less absenteeism, not to mention the real-estate cost savings of not having to supply offices.

Working from home could also solve several commuting-related problems, such as traffic congestion, pollution from car exhaust and -- on a more global scale -- our dependency on foreign oil, Wilsker said.

Government Initiatives

States and municipalities are increasingly considering telework, and bills are emerging nationwide to encourage government employees to work from home offices.

With its 1983 Telework-Telecommuting Program, California was the first state government in the country to embrace teleworking on the premise "that work could be performed in other than conventional offices that are typically located in central business districts." In 1987, California began a three-year teleworking pilot program to help manage an increased demand for office space. The resulting study found additional benefits to teleworking, including improved work effectiveness and an enhanced quality of life.

Furthermore, in the late 1980s, then California Gov. George Deukmejian issued an executive order directing the expansion of the teleworking program to help offset the state's traffic congestion problems. Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, San Bernardino and other California cities also initiated their own programs.

Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, Oregon,

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