A recent study by Global Workplace Analytics found that the federal government would save $11 billion if all federal employees who are eligible for telework did so half of the time.  Employees would also do better financially, saving $2,500 to $4,000 annually on transportation, food, dry cleaning and other costs associated with daily office work.

It’s the type of analysis that will be drawing growing attention, especially at state and local governments, which are facing a dire financial picture in light of the reduced revenue caused by the pandemic.  The average state has seen a 29% revenue decline over the last three months compared with the same quarter last year.  Governments have been forced to cut popular items including school safety programs, health clinics, disability services, and even firefighter salaries.  Allowing employees the option to work from home, and saving local and state governments millions of dollars along the way, will surely be a more popular option than further cuts to any of these programs in the longer-term.

Remote work environments are not better in every way, of course.   There’s a benefit to in-person communication, a unified work schedule and conference rooms just down the hall.  Many offices don’t have management processes to ensure that remote workers have the same access to career opportunities as in-house staff with the same job titles.  In addition, many offices lack remote access to technology and network security sufficient to allow a wide range of work outside the office.

Still, there are benefits beyond the direct savings.  In cities with high costs of living, for example, allowing employees to work partially or mostly remotely may attract those living farther away –  increasing the talent pool size and potentially allowing government to pay a lower salary due to the lower costs of living in the exurbs.  There should also be fewer instances of mass employee disruption during disasters or when traffic is unusually bad.  Employees are less likely to call in sick if going to work doesn’t entail dressing up, fighting through traffic and talking with everyone in the office.

Of course, none of these ancillary benefits have been enough to encourage governments to allow remote work up to this point.  The public sector was years behind the private sector in remote work opportunities before the pandemic hit.  If remote work does become a reality for more public employees, it’s probably going to be due to the financial impact.  And employees who have been hoping for years that they’d be able to dodge the commute will be happy to help their agency save the money – especially if it helps to keep their jobs and salaries intact.

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