Johnson Says Telework Aligns with GSA Achieving Zero Environmental Footprint Goal

As Prepared for Delivery

Remarks by
Martha N. Johnson
U.S. General Services Administration
Telework Exchange Fall Town Hall Meeting
Washington, DC
October 7, 2010

Thank you, Josh, for that kind introduction. And thank you, Telework Exchange for inviting me to speak today.  I’m delighted to be here. I often say “work is what you do, not where you are.” And that’s true in this new brave world we are in.

But, I also could say “Telework is who I am.” I came into government from CSC (Computer Sciences Corporation) where I was working for the CEO on corporate culture. I worked virtually all the time. My colleagues were in the UK, Australia, India, and the West Coast. We never got together. In fact, I never met some of them, but we were online all the time. After awhile, it is silly to get up, get dressed, and drive all the way to Falls Church in order to call India. Do it from home! After all, it’s 4:30 AM! I didn’t know it was called “teleworking.” At CSC it was just called “working.”

But now I’m at GSA.  My first GSA experience was teleworking: I was sworn in by phone from my kitchen during the blizzard last winter. So, Telework is still “who I am,” and it is also for GSA about “who we are.”

GSA is about workplaces: your geographic and your electronic address. We’re experts in this, and we have been for years.

The 21st century workplace is many things. Where it used to be based around hierarchical and controlled assembly lines, it is now characterized as flat, agile, non-linear, collaborative, flexible, and mobile.  Managers used to be foremen with consolidated power, but they are now facilitators, resources, guides, and coaches.    

Technology now lets us be more mobile, but the work is also different and relies less on being watched and more on being connected. Telework fits that model.  

The president sees GSA as a strategic asset both to his government as well as to the nation.  As a result, he has put us squarely in the middle of some of his most exciting initiatives, and he has boosted the profile of our agenda.  We are actively engaged in forwarding the mission of the Open Government Directive.  We are investing in American infrastructure and sustainable design and construction with funds from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.  And, we are taking the lead on a number of the president’s sustainability priorities.  I am immensely proud to say that GSA has aligned around a bold vision for the future: achieving a zero environmental footprint.

This is our moonshot moment, and this goal will galvanize and energize our agency in new and exciting ways.  We are determined to get there, and we are already hard at it, learning every day. We’ve set course, committing to some dramatic interim goals such as reducing our overall greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2020.

Telework is an important lever in that work. For one thing, it significantly reduces our own footprint both in employee commuting and in office space requirements. It also teaches us how to position our government-wide policies to best reduce the footprint across government.  

GSA has deep expertise across the board and throughout our service lines, and we have good, strong, business sense.   We know that telework is good business.

GSA’s business analytics on telework show that, depending on the size of the program, there is a 200-1,500% return on the initial technological investment after adopting a telework system thanks to increased productivity, reduced absenteeism, lower real estate costs, and reduced recruitment and retention needs.

Telework also cuts down on commuting costs and time. A recent study by the Telework Exchange showed that the average federal employee spends $138 dollars on fuel costs per month yet by teleworking the average savings was $55.52 per month.

I recently met a GSA employee in our New York office who commutes three hours. Each way. Every day. I’d like to explore telework options for employees like her who spend dozens of hours a week commuting and who may be eligible for a telework solution.  Reducing those commutes alone would go miles toward carbon savings, toward cost savings, and toward boosting agency-wide productivity.  

The president has asked GSA to lead federal agencies in a government-wide cut of at least $3 billion dollars worth of unneeded space from real estate inventories by 2012.  Telework will be an important tool in achieving this cost reduction and in pursuing this aggressive consolidation strategy.

We’re not alone in this; the private sector has used telework to reduce their office space. For example, the Telework Research Network reports that IBM cut their real estate costs by $50 million, and that Sun Microsystems saved $68 million in real estate reduction, by embracing telework.

At GSA, we have an expert team developing guidance to assist agencies to save space, facility dollars, and increase sustainability. The team is aptly named SUGAR: Space Utilization Guidelines and Recommendations.   A member of my staff, Michael Bloom, is presenting information on this initiative in a panel later today.

Telework succeeds if the participants have good social media tools to stay connected easily.   Our office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies is doing terrific, cutting-edge work to provide collaborative, participatory technologies to our customer agencies in line with the president’s Open Government Directive.  These tools can be used by agencies to help create the virtual workplace and develop seamless telework programs.  

I mentioned earlier that GSA is about government workplaces.  That includes our own.  

We have a lot of experience around the telework agenda.  For example, we have 13 telework centers in the DC metropolitan area.  85% of our employees are eligible to telework, and of those who are eligible 48% telework two or more days per pay period.  We have been recognized as the second leading government agency for telework participation, and we are expanding our use of telework, aiming for 60% of all employees teleworking two or more days per pay period.  

Our experience is also backed up by a fascinating pilot program that we recently ran out of our Kansas City office.  This concentrated project spanned 90 days and moved 42 employees to telework.  Two-thirds of them had the option to telework for five days per week.  

Let there be no mistake: our results were great.  77% of respondents reported that their productivity had increased.  The sick leave went down by 69%, saving on average 14 hours of worktime per employee.  Importantly, we saw an increase in peer-to-peer communication of almost 55%.  

The numbers tell a terrific story, but the anecdotes from participants are equally revealing. For example, there was a manager who admits to being skeptical at first about the program.  He recently said:  “I was also initially concerned about my team’s, and the Center’s, ability to communicate both internally and externally while working from home. After three months of utilizing some of GSA’s communication technology, this also proved to be an unnecessary worry”... “All in all, while initially skeptical, I am now an adamant fan of teleworking.”

There’s also the story of a pilot participant who is a busy new mom and wanted to get back to the office and a group of office friends.  Following the pilot program, she reports that she found the online social networking with the other participants to be much more than if she had been back at the office.

The bonus of this pilot? During its 90 day duration, the work group predicts a reduction of 30 metric tons of CO2 thanks to reduced commuting.  

This pilot and other research have taught us certain important lessons about telework.  We’ve found that telework is best when an entire work group does it together, when they are empowered by truly collaborative technologies, and when there is a “water cooler manager” who facilitates the social networking tool.  We’ve also learned that there needs to be a “just do it” attitude across the organization and that managers and employees need to be aligned around the benefits and open to the arrangement.  

While we’ve learned a lot about telework from our pilot program and our rigorous research, we’re not done yet.  

Our agency headquarters is about to undergo some needed renovations, and we’ll be moving into swing space.  While there, we are going to start actively and purposefully modeling telework and alternative officing, and I’m confident that our experience there will electrify our creativity around the possibilities and potential of telework.  

We are also exploring plans to move our more than 6,000 DC metro employees into one building when our headquarters renovation is completed.  This move will be, in part, a forcing function for our telework capacity, and will encourage us to flex our telework muscles.  

At GSA, we’re serious about telework.  I know you are, too. Have a great conference; enjoy the day, and thank you for inviting me to speak with you today.

Last Reviewed 2010-10-07