by Jinah Yoo (PhD student), Leonor Camarena, PhD, and Federica Fusi, PhD
The growing demands for workplace flexibility coupled with technological advancements have made telework a key element of flexible work arrangements with public organizations. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic sped up the proliferation of telework due to pressures for working-from-home options to contain the spread of the virus. According to the Pew Research Center, more than half of the people who worked remotely during COVID-19 want to continue doing it.
New Jersey Model Telework Pilot Program
In April 2022, the New Jersey (NJ) state government launched a one-year pilot telework program for state executive branch employees beginning July 1, 2022. The pilot telework program allows state employees to work from home for up to two days a week. The NJ Civil Service Commission (CSC) expects the program to make the NJ state government competitive and attractive to top talent, as well as increase productivity. As Governor Murphy states, “Telework will accelerate the modernization of New Jersey’s State government to reflect the evolving workplace landscape.” There are general guidelines established by the CSC, such as maximum number of teleworking days, eligibility criteria, training and performance requirements, and union involvement. However, each department is required to develop its own telework policy.
Nationwide Trends of Telework in Governments
In 2020, 45% of all federal employees teleworked, a 23% increase from the previous year, with 90% of qualifying employees choosing to telework, according to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Since the OPM and the General Services Administration (GSA) launched the Federal Flexible Workplace Pilot Project in 1990, various legislative initiatives have called for federal agencies to establish telework policies. In particular, the Telework Enhancement Act (2010) expanded telecommuting opportunities for federal employees and required all executive agencies to designate a Telework Managing Officer. Moreover, it required the OPM to provide not only general guidance for telework programs but also supportive services, such as analysis, program development and implementation, and evaluation.
State governments have also widely adopted telework. Twenty-one states have statutes or regulations for public sector telework and forty-four states provide policy manuals and/or guidance for state agencies to implement telework, according to the Council of State Governments. As the demand for workplace flexibility increases, more state governments, such as New Jersey, are expected to develop and expand telework policies.
What Research Says: Benefits and Challenges of Telework
The OPM estimated that telework saved more than $180 million annually in costs according to savings reported by federal agencies in 2020. Furthermore, telework is expected to enhance employees’ work attitudes. According to the 2018 Federal Work-Life Survey Governmentwide Report, 76% of teleworkers said they would like to continue working at their current agency, and 77% said telework helps them manage their stress. Additionally, 83% reported higher morale and 72% reported higher performance.
Empirical research reports mixed findings on teleworking. Scholars find that voluntary turnover is lower in agencies that are more supportive of teleworking (Choi, 2020), and organizational adoption and employee participation in telework positively influences employees’ job satisfaction (Bae & Kim, 2016). However, one empirical study finds that job motivation among teleworkers is not higher than among non-teleworkers (Caillier, 2012). Moreover, since telework is not always feasible for all employees, organizations face the burden of managing complaints from employees whose jobs do not allow remote work (Mele et al., 2021). Many studies highlight the important role that managers have in motivating and supporting employees when teleworking is present in the workplace (Choi, 2018; Dahlstrom, 2013; Kim et al., 2021; Kwon & Jeon, 2017). These findings imply the need for additional managerial support and considerations beyond regulations and guidance to make the NJ Pilot Telework Program successful.
Jinah Yoo is a PhD student at the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University–Newark.
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Caillier, J. G. (2012). The Impact of Teleworking on Work Motivation in a U.S. Federal Government Agency. The American Review of Public Administration, 42(4), 461–480. https://doi.org/10.1177/0275074011409394
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Choi, S. (2020). Flexible Work Arrangements and Employee Retention: A Longitudinal Analysis of the Federal Workforces. Public Personnel Management, 49(3), 470–495. https://doi.org/10.1177/0091026019886340
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Kwon, M., & Jeon, S. H. (2017). Why Permit Telework? Exploring the Determinants of California City Governments’ Decisions to Permit Telework. Public Personnel Management, 46(3), 239–262. https://doi.org/10.1177/0091026017717240
Mele, V., Bellé, N., & Cucciniello, M. (2021). Thanks, but No Thanks: Preferences towards Teleworking Colleagues in Public Organizations. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 31(4), 790–805. https://doi.org/10.1093/jopart/muab012