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Teleworking: A Fact Sheet

By Joanne B. Shore

What Is Teleworking?

Cynthia Clark

Teleworking, sometimes called telecommuting or flexiplace, is the act of performing work away from the traditional centralized office environment. Modern technological advances have made it easier to work anytime, anywhere, and anyplace. In fact, technology has been one of the driving forces behind teleworking's popularity.

Teleworking is not a new concept. For example, the term "telecommuting" itself was coined back in the early 1970's to describe the potential for replacing the physical commute to work with electronic communications.

Why Telework?

Telework benefits the employer, the employee, and society overall. For the employer, telework can provide the ability to attract and retain skilled workers. It also can result in increased employee satisfaction and productivity, reduced absenteeism, reduced overhead costs, and decreased office space.

Some Federal agencies have saved jobs from budget cuts by allowing employees to work at alternative worksites, thereby reducing space and facility costs.

For example, during FY95, the Department of Education faced the need to close several satellite offices, one of which was the Office of the Inspector General field investigators and auditors. Many of these workers were long-term valuable employees whose positions still served a vital function in the agency. Education was able to use teleworking to provide a workable solution. The agency directed funds toward establishing hoteling space (shared space) at the 5 regional areas. With the expense of larger office spaces reduced to that of hoteling space, Education saved approximately 24 jobs.

For the employee, telework can mean reduced commuting time and stress, reduced job-related costs, and a more productive work environment. For society, telework can lead to reduced traffic congestion, air pollution, and highway costs; improved accommodation for people with disabilities; and a more "family-friendly" workplace.

Within the Federal government, telework has had the support of President Clinton, Vice President Gore, and the President's Management Council. Both the National Partnership for Reinventing Government (NPR) and President Clinton's Climate Change Action Plan identified telecommuting as one solution to accommodate the demand for increased mobility and to enhance worker satisfaction. In his memorandum of July 1994 and subsequent correspondence, President Clinton directed federal agencies to support telecommuting and satellite work locations as a way to expand family-friendly work arrangements throughout the Executive Branch. In a 1997 memorandum to all Federal agencies, Vice President Gore mentioned the need "…to make telecommuting more readily available to our workers." The National Telecommuting Initiative, co-led by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), is a nationwide effort endorsed by the President's Management Council to increase the number of Federal workers who telework. The NTI, which was initiated in 1996, is still the primary governmentwide program. Since the NTI did not meet its initial goal of establishing a workforce of 60,000 Federal teleworkers by October 1998, GSA and DOT are taking steps to reenergize this important initiative. According to a 1998 report by the Office of Personnel Management, there are over 25,000 teleworkers in the Federal government.

Congress has also played a role in supporting telework within the Federal government. In September of 1992, Congress authorized GSA to set aside $5 million to:

  1. Establish telecommuting centers in the greater Washington, D.C. area (Public Law 102-393), and
  2. Promote and implement telecommuting within the Federal government.

One year later, Congress modified that legislation by increasing the appropriation to $6 million. The project born of this appropriation became known as the Interagency Telecommuting Pilot Project.

Due to the success and popularity of the Interagency Telecommuting Pilot Project, Congress appropriated another $5 million in 1995 for the expansion and continuation of the telecommuting center project in the metropolitan Washington area. GSA then began establishing partnerships in several localities around Washington, D.C. to plan, manage, and promote the telecommuting effort in their geographic areas. In October of 1998, Congress passed an Appropriations Bill that included $2.1 million for the acquisition, lease, construction, and equipping of "flexiplace telecommuting centers."

Other important telework-related initiatives are now underway. The White House and GSA are undertaking efforts to establish better links between telework and emergency preparedness. Congressman Frank Wolf of Virginia has recently introduced to Congress "The National Telecommuting and Air Quality Act." This Act would establish an air pollution credits trading program. It would offer organizations credits for avoiding nitrogen oxides emitted from vehicles if they let their employees telework or participate in other pollution-reducing initiatives.

Where Do Teleworkers Work?

Teleworkers can be found at a variety of alternate work sites.

Virtual Office: "Virtual office" is just what it sounds like. With a portable computer, pager, and cellular phone, as needed, a "mobile" worker can work anywhere; such as at home, while traveling, or at a customer's site.

GSA offers a service called "Office Anywhere" to help Federal agencies find solutions to their virtual office problems.

Hoteling: "Hoteling" refers to "shared" workstations, which consist of a work surface, computer, and telephone, and are for use by employees who are working temporarily or part time in a specific place and/or on a specific project or who work in an environment where employees have flexible hours. They are generally located within an existing office environment, so that users have access to other equipment such as copiers, printers, and fax machines.

Telecenters: A telework center, or "telecenter", is a multi-agency facility that provides a geographically convenient office setting as an alternative to the customer or worker's home or the main office. The center may contain cubicles, open workspaces, conference areas, and even individual offices of varying sizes. Equipment and services may also include personal computers with software and modems for connecting to the employee’s agency network and the Internet: shared fax machines, printers, copiers, and other office equipment; and telephone systems with voice mail, teleconferencing and video conferencing capabilities.

The Greater Washington, D.C. Area - including Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia - currently has a total of 18 telecenters open serving about 350 Federal employees and 50 private sector workers. Information about arranging to work at these centers and the fee structure is available on the Project Overview site. Telecenters are also located in California, Georgia, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, and New York. Contact information and a nationwide listing of telecenters and hoteling opportunities are available on the Interagency Telelisting Page

Home-Based Offices: A home-based office should be a well-defined area that contains all the furniture, equipment and supplies the individual needs to work from home.A home-based office should be as safe to work in as any office provided by an employer and as distraction-free as possible.


Who Teleworks?

Almost every job has some work that is suitable for teleworking.In fact, the variety of jobs open to teleworkers is almost endless - writers, editors, artists, engineers, programmers, customer service personnel, telemarketers, inventors, purchasing agents, stockbrokers, desktop publishers, trainers, financial analysts, detectives, accountants, claims processors, systems analysts, translators, travel agents, designers, information brokers, journalists, market researchers.

In addition, teleworking, supported by electronic government and computer technology, can provide reasonable accommodation for an employee covered under the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

It’s made a big difference to Cynthia Clark, a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employee. "In March of 1998, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis," she said. "Teleworking was recommended to reduce the frequency of MS relapses caused by fatigue and stress. I telework from home three days a week. With the support of [my] management, along with a remote application manager that connects me to FAA's host computer, E-mail, voice mail, telephone, and a fax machine, teleworking has enhanced my quality of life. The benefits of my at-home work environment are improved health and fitness, balance between the demands of work and family, increased productivity, reduced commuting time and costs, reduced absence, and elevated job satisfaction. Telecommuting has eliminated my concern with early disability retirement. It works for me!"

Cynthia’s supervisor is equally pleased.

Teleworking is not limited to certain industries, though high-tech companies probably lead the way. Teleworking programs are found in all sectors including banking, law, insurance, manufacturing, utilities, government -even oil companies and the automobile industry. In addition, teleworking is international in nature - Canada, Japan, Australia, and Europe all have teleworking programs. The number of teleworkers nationwide is now 15.7 million, according to a survey completed by a New York research and consulting firm called Cyber Dialogue.

The Telecommuting Safety & Health Benefits Institute (TSHBI) provides information on "telework-friendly" organizations.

When to Telework

According to a 1997 AT&T Survey of Teleworker Attitudes and Work Styles conducted by FIND/SVP and Joanne H. Pratt Associates, teleworkers average 11 days a month working at home. Teleworking employees usually spend part of their workweek in the regular office to improve communication, minimize isolation, and use facilities not readily available offsite. Still, there are some individuals who prefer full-time teleworking and coming to the office for meetings.

How to Telework

A potential teleworker should make a list of the various responsibilities that his or her job requires and consider the job in terms of tasks and projects. For example, tasks such as research, planning, and writing can be done away from the office. Jobs that are project-driven also lend themselves to teleworking.

Communication for teleworkers is key to sustaining good relationships with their fellow workers, customers, and/or managers.The following tips can help to ensure teleworking success:

Tips for Teleworkers

  • Establish a routine
  • Establish goals
  • Take breaks
  • Set deadlines
  • Avoid distractions
  • (At home) Designate a separate work space
  • Maintain regular communication with your manager
  • Be accessible


As more and more companies and Federal agencies institute telework programs, they need to consider the impact these programs have on their workforce. Though many organizations foster unofficial teleworking, a more prudent approach is to identify potential legal pitfalls and then develop and communicate clear workplace policies to handle them. These policies define expectations for the teleworker. Consider the following elements for inclusion in a telework policy:

Selection criteria for remote work candidates

Limits on work time, required core hours and/or required response times

Who pays for what - equipment costs and insurance

Designated work area for worker's compensation

Timekeeping and reporting requirements

Employer's right to inspect workplace upon reasonable advance notice

Monitoring rights of employer

Protection of employer intellectual property

Applicability of all existing employer policies and procedures to teleworkers

Childcare arrangements

Work expectations

Performance measurement



For further information on telework, visit the following internet sites: (The Mining Company): This site contains general information about teleworking.

Oregon Department of Energy: The state of Oregon has a very active telework program.

Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Telework Center: An excellent site for those located in the Metropolitan Washington area.

The International Teleworking & Advisory Council (ITAC): ITAC is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the economic, social and environmental benefits of teleworking. The organization's site includes links to other teleworking organizations, resources, articles, membership form, studies, and conference information. The site also includes information on TELECOMMUTE AMERICA, a nationwide effort to promote telework.

U.S. General Services Administration: This site contains policies, reports, and reference material for the Federal market.

Canadian Telework Association: Lots of information on teleworking and related issues.

The Washington Metropolitan Telework Centers: A description of the centers in the Greater Washington area, with links to each center's web page.

Joanne B. Shore
Program Specialist
Evaluation & Innovative Workplaces Division
Office of Real Property
Office of Governmentwide Policy
U.S. General Services Administration
1800 F St. NW
Washington, D.C. 20405
Tel.: 202-273-4668
Fax: 202-273-4670


Story of a Telecommuter