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Telework Advocate: Swine Flu a Wake-Up Call for States and Locals



May 13, 2009 By

This month's swine flu outbreak, a.k.a. the H1N1 influenza, may not be the serious pandemic many virologists feared, but it did force governments to re-examine their continuity of operations (COOP) plans.

And if a survey released Wednesday rings true, government adoption of teleworking as a COOP option has much room to grow. Only about one-third of more than 300 federal employees who responded in early May to an online survey by the Telework Exchange -- a public-private partnership that promotes teleworking in the federal government -- gave their agency an A or B grade for continuity of operations planning for a pandemic.

"Regardless of where your agencies lies -- either in the federal or state and local markets, this really is a wake-up call," said Cindy Auten, the general manager of Telework Exchange. State and local governments, in general, tend to trail somewhat behind the feds in implementing teleworking policies.

Forty-two percent of respondents said their agencies hadn't provided guidance on how to respond to the swine flu (e.g., stay home when sick or telework from home). But many government agencies -- at all levels -- have done a good job of implementing COOP plans in recent years, Auten said.

"You wonder where the disconnect actually lies. Because if the organization has [a COOP plan] in place, where has it been lost in translation down to the employee about what you're going to do?" Auten asked.

During the height of the swine flu scare earlier this month, most of the guidance coming from government agencies pertained to employees' health, Auten said, but not much direction was being given about how to accommodate workers who weren't comfortable showing up to the office.

The federal departments of Commerce, Health and Human Services, and Justice are among the 10 most prepared agencies for a pandemic, according to the Telework Exchange.


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