Telecommuting: will State of Texas employees be next?
You’re driving at a snail’s pace, bumper-to-bumper to and from work on just about any route into downtown Austin five days a week. It’s a match made in – well, certainly not Heaven – for fostering road rage among impatient drivers.
Now, close your eyes while you’re at a complete standstill stuck in that traffic and fantasize what it would be like if you could wave a wand and almost 20 percent of the vehicles in the typical rush-hour traffic jam would suddenly disappear.
Can’t visualize it? Maybe this will help…think about how much less time it took you to drive to your job on Veterans Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, President’s Day or Memorial Day. They are all state-observed holidays, with all state agencies closed. That, according to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, means that 19 percent of the vehicles normally on Austin-area roads that lead to the downtown area – driven by state employees – are not contributing to the usual traffic congestion. The Transportation Institute also indicates that rush hour traffic on I-35 in Austin on holidays when state workers have the day off is reduced by nearly 40 percent.
Texas State Rep. Celia Israel wants to make that an everyday occurrence. “We all notice how much nicer getting around town is on state holidays,” Israel said. “I want to create more of those nice days.”
Israel doesn’t want to wait for holidays to curb downtown traffic in Austin. To that end, the Austin state representative has filed legislation that takes an unusual – but viable – approach to mitigating traffic congestion. Israel is convinced that allowing State of Texas employees to telecommute and work flexible schedules will solve at least part of the work hour traffic jams on some major Texas roadways.
Israel’s House Bill 1839 would allow state agency directors to adopt policies that would be in effect department-wide for employees to telecommute – working remotely from a different location than in the state agency building where they are employed. Current law only allows state employees to be approved to telecommute on a case-by-case basis with approval from their department head.
The freshman legislator’s bill not only would allow authorized state employees to work from home or from another site “off-campus” from their respective agencies, but would also allow for flexible hours, where an employee is allowed to work hours other than the normal work hours of their respective agencies. Removing the vehicles of those employees from the roadways at peak traffic times would likely have a significant impact on traffic.
Traffic mitigation would not be the only benefit from telecommuting and staggered work hours among state employees. There is potential, according to Israel, for state agencies to save on electricity, office space and equipment costs. When office space is provided to employees on an as-needed basis instead of having a single space reserved full-time for each employee (commonly called “hoteling”), the state will save both on workspace needed and equipment that can be used by more than one employee.
The federal government allows telecommuting and government officials say if eligible employees would telecommute two days a week, the savings to the government would be approximately $14 billion per year.
Many state governments allow telecommuting – Virginia, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and Oregon, to name a few. State officials say they find telecommuting a good tool for employee recruitment and retention and indicate that those employees who participate are more productive. But still, the private sector has embraced telecommuting more than the public sector.
Texas ranks second among the top 10 states regarding private-sector telecommuting, with 4.1 percent of the state’s job listings available telecommuting jobs, according to a study by FlexJobs. California ranks first with 5.2 percent, followed by New York, Florida, Illinois, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Georgia, New Jersey and Arizona.
“The geographic diversity of the states represented on this list highlights that telecommuting opportunities are available across the country,” said Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs.
Between 2005 and 2012, telecommuting in the United States increased by nearly 80 percent. The numbers in Texas could increase significantly if state employees are added to the mix.
To stay updated on the latest Texas government news, subscribe to Texas Government Insider, a weekly publication of Strategic Partnerships, Inc.