Telework IT support expands but is offset by security concerns

CDW Government revealed the findings of its fourth annual telework survey. According to the national survey of Federal government and private-sector employees and IT professionals, private-sector employers have taken significant steps to expand telework initiatives, and private-sector telework adoption is approaching the Federal level, with 14 percent of private-sector employees teleworking, compared to 17 percent of Federal employees.

The CDW-G survey shows that 76 percent of private-sector employers provide technical support for remote workers, up 27 percentage points over 2007. Federal agencies remain strong advocates for telework, also called telecommuting, with 56 percent of Federal IT professionals indicating that their agencies provide IT support for teleworkers. Since 2005, Federal IT support has grown 23 percent, according to a year-over-year trend analysis of telework survey data.

Federal law requires agencies to enable telework for 100 percent of eligible employees. Drivers for Federal telework adoption include military base closings and realignments, traffic congestion around major metropolitan areas, and environmental impacts, as well as enabling productivity for field workers and planning for continuity of operations in the event of natural or manmade catastrophes.

Telework and IT security
Alongside the increase in technical support for teleworkers, the percentage of Federal employees eligible to work remotely dipped to 40 percent from its high of 55 percent in 2006. The drop coincides with continuing concern about IT security; IT professionals in both sectors cited security as their top concern about telework, with 42 percent of Federal IT professionals and 27 percent of private-sector IT professionals indicating that it is their most pressing challenge.

Overall, IT professionals appear confident in their organizations’ IT security measures. Eighty-four percent of Federal IT professionals and 88 percent of private-sector IT professionals said their organization’s IT security procedures and systems are effective. Fifty-six percent of Federal agencies and 74 percent of private-sector employers authenticate teleworkers separately from the remote computers they use, ensuring that they know not only what devices are accessing their networks, but also who is at the keyboard. Moreover, nearly 70 percent of Federal and private-sector employers are providing the computers and other equipment teleworkers use, adding an additional measure of control.

Despite those security protections, the survey revealed a gap in awareness that could introduce security weaknesses: 21 percent of Federal employees and 31 percent of private-sector employees say they are not aware of their organization’s corporate security policies, potentially opening the door to behaviors that risk security breaches.

Telework capability benefits continuity planning, employee recruitment
Ever-heightening concerns with traffic congestion, air pollution and gasoline prices increase the attraction of telework, and the 2008 CDW-G Telework Report also finds that the telework option could improve employee recruitment, satisfaction and retention. In fact, 50 percent of Federal employees and 40 percent of private-sector employees say that the option to telework would influence their decision to remain with their employer or take a new job.

Further, broad telework adoption could ensure the continuity of government and business operations in the aftermath of a major catastrophe, or even for the duration of a minor disruptive event, such as a snowstorm, tornado or wildfire – and this year’s survey finds mixed news on that topic. Consistent with the decrease in Federal telework eligibility, Federal employees’ ability to continue to work remotely in the event of a natural or man-made disaster has declined significantly since 2007, with 59 percent of Federal employees indicating that they could telework during a disruption, down from 75 percent in 2007. In the private sector, continuity of operations capability increased but still trails the Feds, with 46 percent of employees indicating that they could continue working during a disruption, up from 33 percent in 2007.

The value of telework to continuity of operations is clear, with more than half of Federal employees who can continue working during a disruption indicating that they are eligible to telework. In the private sector, the benefit is even more dramatic, with more than 70 percent of employees who can continue working indicating that their company has a telework program.

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