Push on to expand telework to help save energy

Congress may expand options for federal workers

Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2008

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Staff photo by GARY SMITH
Maredith Management, which recently underwent a "Go Green" paperless and four-day workweek campaign, will soon move into this new building in La Plata. "I thought, this is crazy to buy space to store files. There's no reason to keep all that paper," CEO Candice Kelly says.

Candice Kelly is helping save the environment — and gasoline — one employee at a time.

Her Waldorf company, Maredith Management, has recently taken on a "green" campaign that she hopes other businesses will soon adopt as well.

The property and community management business moved employees to a four-day workweek and allows its managers to work from home twice a week.

"Many of my employees … the cost of gas was a concern. As a business owner, I care about the environment and being innovative. We all have to change the way we live," Kelly said. "It worked better than I thought it would."

Kelly said she was inspired to implement such policies after learning about the ability of her friend — a U.S. patent lawyer — to telework.

"If the U.S. government can accommodate a patent attorney, surely [we] can" telework, Kelly said. She also moved her company to a paperless environment in January, which reduces the amount of paper the company handles, files and manages,

Some federal legislators are attempting to increase the number of telework-eligible federal employees, which is currently 9.5 percent, according to the Office of Personnel Management's 2006 "Status of Telework in the Federal Government" report.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill in June that would require agencies to develop a program allowing federal employees to telework at least 20 percent of every two-week work period. Agencies would have to designate a senior-level employee to serve as a telework managing officer and they would be required to incorporate telework into their continuing operational planning. A Senate bill would require employers to prove why employees aren't eligible to telework, rather than justifying why they are, received approval by the Senate's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md., 5th) sent a letter to the OPM on Sept. 12 regarding his proposal to transition more federal employees to a four-day, 10-hour workweek as a means to conserve gasoline, reduce congestion and lower commuting costs for all drivers, his press secretary said.

The letter asks the agency to provide information detailing the extent to which federal employees are eligible and are already using flexible work schedules.

"Commuting times in our region are some of the worst in the nation," Hoyer wrote in the letter. "Promoting alternative work schedules, such as telecommuting and the four-day, 10-hour work week, for the large number of federal workers in our area can make a large and positive contribution — without adversely affecting work efficiency — to conserve gasoline, reduce congestion and lower commuting costs for all drivers."

"With the economy the way it is right now every little bit helps. I usually fill up twice a week driving back and forth to work," said Brittany Wells, a Southern Marylander who drives about 45 minutes to work. "Filling up twice costs about $100 and if I could cut back driving by even one day I would jump at the opportunity. I feel that every business that can do it whether it be government or private should most definitely jump at the opportunity."

These moves to permit more federal workers to telecommute are "necessary in light of today's energy costs and traffic congestion," said Jill Wathen, director of the Southern Maryland Telework Centers in Prince Frederick, Waldorf and Laurel.

Mechanicsville resident and federal worker Tammy Shea currently works a "four/10" and loves it.

"I am off every Wednesday. I make all appointments that day and never have to use leave," she said. "My commute is an hour in the morning but I have to get up at 3:30 a.m. and be on the road by 4:30 a.m. to catch the car pool. … I have only telecommuted a few times but I like that as well; you get a lot more done."

But in the private sector, small businesses don't have legislation forcing them to consider teleworking or flexible work schedules.

Kelly hopes her model, which allowed her to enhance online services for customers and lengthen business hours so clients don't have to drive to the office, will inspire Southern Maryland companies to jump on the "green" bandwagon. She is investing in new equipment to accommodate scanning all files into the system, recycling paper and updating software so employees could use it from home and moving all 15 employees — some of whom live in Annapolis and St. Mary's County – off the roads.

"It makes sense. With a cell phone and a computer you can work anytime. This is a tough business and it burns people out. … For busy people, it's good to be able to get your personal life in order [on Fridays]. Because when your personal life's in order, you're a much more efficient employee," Kelly said.

"I love the new hours. In the mornings, it gives us time to catch up in the morning and the extra time in the evening. It makes the week that much shorter. Everyone's much happier during the week," said Maredith customer service representative Brittany Sparks.

"With established guidelines I think employers would be wise to look into and see how it would benefit their company or agency. Teleworking is the way to go if companies want to maintain continuity in their work force," said Mechanicsville resident and federal worker Lori Lasser.

"This is the wave of the future," Kelly said.