Our View – Time is right for telework

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Telework alone isn’t going to solve our region’s transportation problems, but state and federal leaders should view it as a key variable in a complicated equation.

After a decade of lip service and half-hearted campaign promises, we’re beginning to see some encouraging signs. Some of that credit goes to Del. Tim Hugo (R-Centreville), who sponsored three pieces of sensible legislation this year and appears genuinely committed to the telework cause.

What we like best about Hugo’s ideas is that they’re actually attainable. One bill asks state agencies to have 20 percent of their eligible workforce telecommuting by Jan. 1, 2010. At the moment, only three percent of state employees do so. A second bill ensures that the Office of Telework and Broadband Assistance, established by Gov. Kaine two years ago to encourage and assist companies with home-based workers, continues after Kaine’s term ends.

There’s a lot to like here. For starters, neither bill involves subsidies or tax credits. Just as important, state agencies are being put to their own telework test before any full-court press is placed on the private sector.

There has already been some success on at least two fronts. Virginia’s Department of Taxation, hailed as teleworking’s poster child by Hugo, was able to close several of its offices in Northern Virginia after adopting the program a few years ago.

In Alexandria, more than 300 county employees work from home at least once a week, making it the first county to exceed the 20-percent goal set by the Metropolitan Washington Council on Government.

For those keeping score, that’s a few hundred brake lights the rest of us won’t see on our way to work tomorrow morning. It also means less gasoline burned and fewer pollutants emitted.

Despite those factors and several others (less real estate costs, less staff turnover and reduced training costs), convincing private sector executives to allow some employees to work from home once a week has proved tougher than cutting steak with a butter knife.

Fortunately, most are closer to the starting gate than they realize. After all, as our knowledge economy continues to evolve, more companies have come to rely on contract workers who do some, if not most, of their work from home.

That fact, coupled with newfound political will and significant technological advances, makes 2008 the right year to kick the telework train into higher gear.

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