Every federal agency is required to offer telework, but not all telework options are equal. Many barriers keep agencies from fully embracing a robust telework program or understanding its value.
Tight budgets limit access to technological advances that enable telework. Officials are wary of employees working with sensitive information outside the confines of a secure office. "Old school" managers still believe in management by sight while others struggle to build the trust and internal communication essential for high-performing teams.
Allowing telework also means a shift in culture and how performance and productivity are measured. With so many barriers, it is no surprise that a recent Federal Employee Viewpoint survey from the Office of Personnel Management showed that only 28 percent of employees telework on a regular basis.
Telework offers many benefits, including greater flexibility, continuity of operations, increased productivity, improved retention, and cost savings in real estate and utilities. It may not always be easy to put a dollar amount on these benefits, but some practical steps can help estimate an agency's return on investment for telework.
Asking the Critical Questions
First, we must understand our telework policies. Who is teleworking and how often? How are we tracking these metrics? We need accurate numbers to properly calculate return on investment.
Next, what do we measure? We should take into account factors that could benefit our agency. Additionally, we need to include the costs associated with implementing telework. Here are a few proven measures to start a return-on-investment evaluation.
Cost savings on transit subsidies are easy to quickly estimate. The most common method for measuring transit subsidy savings is to calculate the average amount of transit benefit reduction by the number of teleworkers who previously used the subsidy. Agencies can also estimate savings by examining the transportation subsidies dispensed for those who telework versus those who don't, or by comparing subsidies dispensed before and after an increase in telework participation.
Workplace flexibilities such as telework help to attract and retain employees, which provides significant cost savings. To demonstrate how telework drives retention, agencies can compare data from an Employee Viewpoint Survey (for example, by asking workers if they are considering leaving the organization within the next year). Internal surveys and exit interviews can refine this information. Comparing attrition rates with average recruitment costs can provide a general estimate of agency cost savings.
Real estate costs can be drastically reduced by introducing desk sharing or hoteling, but only with intentional space reductions or expanded use of existing facilities. Real estate cost savings can be measured per employee or by square footage per employee. An increase in the number of employees reporting to an office location because of hoteling can demonstrate efficiencies in existing space. If hoteling decreases the needed square footage of office space and an agency renegotiates a lease agreement, it can precisely demonstrate cost savings.
What Gets Done?
Productivity is the most nebulous factor to measure, but it is possible to evaluate by work and job type. Agencies should use quantifiable data in telework and nontelework scenarios to calculate the comparison while remaining careful to distinguish between activities, outputs and outcomes as measures of productivity. An examination of whether teleworkers use less administrative leave than non-teleworkers is a quick, indirect measure of productivity.
When evaluating telework investments, agencies should also establish goals that define the strategic direction of the telework program and determine whether the agency is meeting its mission. Agencies face many barriers to implementing a robust telework program, but with careful and creative consideration, we can demonstrate how telework benefits outweigh the challenges.