Security a Top Issue As Teleworking Grows

Teleworking continues to grow at an impressive rate in the US, study finds.

Security continues to dominate as IT's most pressing concern when it comes to supporting a large telecommuting workforce. But while security is a concern, teleworking, especially in the government realm, continues to grow at an impressive clip according to a study released by the CDW Government consultancy .

The group's report says during the past year, telework growth in the federal government also outpaced the private sector: 35 percent of Federal teleworkers started teleworking, compared to 10 percent of private-sector teleworkers. It also said 44 percent of federal-employee respondents to the survey indicate that they have the option to telework -- up 6 percent from 2006 -- while 15 percent of private-sector employee respondents have that option, CDW says.

The study also pits the government against the private sector, saying that federal IT departments are offering telework to more workers faster: 42 percent of responding federal IT professionals report that their agency started or expanded its telework program in the last year and that 62 percent of federal agencies now have written IT policies for telework in place compared to 46 percent last year. Private-sector teleworkers lags well behind, with just 25 percent of private-sector IT professional respondents, indicating a new or expanded program in the last year, and that 40 percent of private-sector organizations have written telework policies in place.

Some of these numbers fly in the face of other stories that say government IT managers in particular have been slow to embrace the teleworker spirit.

"We are hampered by constantly having to beg and plead," said Wendell Joice, head of the U.S. General Services Administration's governmentwide telework team, at a conference last year. For government agencies to fully see telecommuting as a benefit, top managers need an attitude change, Joice said. Under legislation passed by the U.S. Congress in 2000, federal agencies are required to offer telecommuting as an option, but Congress can't really force agencies to speed implementation.

Others says efforts to increase telework in the U.S. federal government have a long way to go. Just 35 percent of federal managers today think their agencies support telework, according to results of a survey conducted by Telework Exchange and Federal Managers Association and released in January.

In reality, all executive agencies are required to offer eligible employees the opportunity to participate in telecommuting programs. Further, departments and agencies are required to report, each quarter, how many federal employees are participating in their telework programs. Agencies also are required to designate a telework coordinator who's responsible for overseeing the implementation and operation of telecommuting programs.

Despite these legislative efforts to spur increased telework, awareness remains low. Among 214 federal managers surveyed, 47 percent think their agencies don't support telework, and 18 percent are unsure.

Nevertheless advocates of telework say it can provide government agencies and private companies several benefits, including a way to remotely continue operations during a national disaster or terrorist attack. Telecommuting can also ease the traffic problems, reduce pollution and increase worker productivity, advocates say.

CDW also notes that teleworkers are more likely to be able to work in the event of a natural or manmade disaster. In the federal government, 87 percent of current teleworking respondents said they could continue to work via telework in the case of a displacing event, compared to 66 percent of nonteleworking respondents. In the private sector, however, that gap increases substantially. Although 74 percent of private-sector teleworking respondents said that they could continue teleworking, just 28 percent of nonteleworking respondents could continue. Given that fewer private-sector employees telework, 33 percent of private-sector respondents overall state that they would be able to continue to work via telework if their office were closed because of some event.

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Overall, employers have a variety of concerns regarding telecommuting. Asked "What is your most pressing concern about telework initiatives?" here are the answers:

Security41 percent35 percent
Hardware/software requirements1011
Collaboration requirements109
Help-desk requirements77
Technology refresh58

Both Federal and private IT departments use a variety of security packages, everything from firewalls and antivirus software to biometrics and intrusion detection to protect their networks.

The 2007 CDW-G Telework Report surveyed nearly 2,200 Federal government and private-sector employees and IT professionals nationwide.