Federal Government Leading Continued Growth in Teleworking in the Washington Region

Jul 15, 2013

More of the Washington region's workforce is working from home or from remote work centers than ever before, according to the most recent "State of the Commute" survey conducted by Commuter Connections, a program of the Transportation Planning Board. The survey included telephone interviews with 6,335 residents of the Washington region.

The 2013 survey also found that the federal government is responsible for almost all of the growth in teleworking regionwide over the last three years and has, over the last six years, consistently posted more significant gains than the private, non-profit, and state and local government sectors.

According to the survey, which the TPB has conducted every three years since 2001, 27% of the region's workforce reported working from home or working remotely "at least occasionally."

That's a slightly greater share than when the TPB last surveyed commuters in 2010. At that time 25% of respondents said they teleworked that often; only 11% of commuters who reported doing so in 2001.

The federal government saw the most significant gains in the share of workers who telework, according to the survey, far outpacing the private, non-profit, and state and local government sectors.

In the 2013 survey, 38% of people who work for the federal government said they teleworked at least occasionally, up from 27% in 2010 and just 16% in 2007.

By comparison, only 25% of private sector workers reported teleworking -- down from 28% in 2010 -- and 27% of workers in the non-profit sector did so, up slightly from 26% in 2010. Just 13% of state and local government workers said in the 2013 survey that they telework.

A major factor contributing to the increases in teleworking among federal workers was the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, a law requiring all federal agencies to develop formal telework policies, to identify all positions that were suitable for teleworking, and to designate staff specifically to help implement and monitor telework programs.

The law also provided guidance on developing written employer-employee telework agreements and providing training to workers and managers in teleworking best practices.

Driven in part by members of Congress representing districts in the Washington region, the legislation sought to reduce the need for additional office space for a growing federal workforce and to ensure that daily operations, especially critical ones, could continue even when extreme weather and natural disasters required the federal government to close or otherwise prevented workers from traveling to their offices.

Major snowstorms in the Washington region in late 2009 and early 2010, an earthquake in August 2011, and Superstorm Sandy in 2012 are all examples of the kinds of events that can disrupt daily operations, but the effects of which teleworking provisions can help mitigate.

Congress and the federal government's senior management, including President Obama, have also come to see teleworking as a valuable tool in attracting and retaining talented workers who are seeking ways to reduce the burden of daily commuting.

In addition to the federal government's striking gains in teleworking over the last several years, the TPB's most recent survey also found that teleworkers in the region are doing so more often -- 1.4 days a week on average, up from 1.3 days a week three years ago. And the share of teleworkers who do so at least once day a week is up from 48% to 57%.

The survey also revealed room for further growth if more employers would allow it -- 18% of respondents said they "could and would" telework if given the opportunity.

Teleworking is continuing to grow in the Washington region. In the last three years, that growth has been led mainly by the federal government. Continued growth in teleworking will reduce demand on our crowded roads and transit system, and provide numerous other benefits for both employers and employees.

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