Telecommuting by IT Workers Constrained by Security Issues

Private-sector telework is rising to levels enjoyed by federal employees

CDW Government, Inc. has released findings of its fourth annual telework survey, revealing that private-sector employers have significantly expanded telework initiatives. Private-sector telework adoption (14 percent) is approaching the rate of federal employees (17 percent).

The survey of over 1,800 federal government and private-sector employees and IT professionals across the U.S. reported that 76 percent of private-sector employers provide technical support for remote workers (a rise of 27 percentage points over 2007). Federal agencies remain strong advocates for telework: 56 percent of federal IT professionals indicated IT support for teleworkers. Since 2005, federal IT support has grown 23 percent, CDW-G reported.

Federal law requires agencies to support telework for all eligible employees, but the percentage of federal employees eligible to work remotely dipped to 40 percent from its high of 55 percent in 2006. The drop may be due to ongoing IT security concerns, which is the top telecommuting issue for 42 percent of federal IT professionals and 27 percent of private-sector IT workers.

“More stringent IT security policies are controlling telework expansion in the federal government,” said Andy Lausch, senior director of federal sales for CDW-G, in a statement. “Federal agencies recognize that IT security and telework can co-exist, and they are carefully managing telework programs hand-in-hand with layered technology solutions that protect data and networks while enabling the increased productivity and flexibility that telework affords.”

Overall, IT professionals are confident in their organizations’ IT security measures: 84 percent of federal IT professionals and 88 percent of those surveyed working in the private sector said their organization’s IT security procedures and systems are effective. The survey also found that 56 percent of federal agencies and 74 percent of private-sector employers authenticate telecommuters separately from the remote computers they use so they know what devices are accessing their networks and who is using them. Almost 70 percent of federal and private-sector employers provide computers and other equipment teleworkers use.

The survey notes a serious “awareness gap” on the part of users: 21 percent of federal employees and nearly one-third (31 percent) of private-sector employees said they are not aware of their organization’s corporate security policies.

Besides helping employees reduce traffic congestion and in light of rising gasoline prices, the report also found that the telework option could improve employee recruitment, satisfaction, and retention. Half of federal employees and four in ten private-sector employees said that the option to telework would influence their decision to remain with their employer or take a new job.

Continuity of work is also cited as a benefit of telecommuting, but the survey found along 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, business continuity is getting better, but still doesn’t match federal levels: 46 percent of employees indicated they could continue working during a disruption, up from 33 percent in last year’s survey.

“The private sector is solidly embracing telework. Continuity of operations alone could justify the investment, and improved employee satisfaction is icing on that cake,” sacid Ken Grimsley, vice president of strategic sales for CDW. “Still, many businesses remain unprepared for recovery from disruptions or are failing to take advantage of affordable, advanced security technologies that are justifiable even without telework. We have a long way to go.”

The survey has a margin of error of about 4.5 percent overall. CDW-G defined telework/telecommuting as “employees doing their current job during regular work hours from home or another location away from the employer’s primary work locations.”

A downloadable copy of the report is available at http://www.cdwg.com/telework. A short registration form must be completed for access.

About the Author

James E. Powell is the former editorial director of Enterprise Strategies (esj.com).