The feds take a baby step toward telework

Is your company keen on telework? If not, would a tax break make the difference?

That's the question telework advocates have been wrestling with for years. While states like Virginia, California, Washington and Maryland have used tax credits and other incentives to entice businesses to initiate telework programs, overall, such efforts have met with lackluster response. But that might change as the Federal government shows signs it's ready to back the idea.

Leading the charge is U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey, who in January released a proposal stating the time is right for the federal government to promote corporate telecommuting programs. The Texas Republican extolled teleworking's virtues as a way to boost hiring and retain good employees, relieve congestion and traffic, and promote family values. "It's an issue for the new economy and the future," Armey spokesman Paul Morrell adds.

While Armey's office has yet to release details of the proposal or meet with Labor Department representatives, Morrell says the office is examining a variety of incentives, and that Armey plans to enlist the help of small businesses and commerce committees in developing a plan.

Who should watch these developments as they wind their way through Congress? Prospective teleworkers keen to launch programs, human resource directors looking to make hiring talent easier, and even corporate property managers hoping to alleviate a space crunch, says Jack Heacock, vice president of major accounts with telework consultancy TManage.

Even the bean counters should watch the proposal. Couple federal tax incentives with similar states' offerings, and the windfall could be lucrative. "Clearly, your [chief financial officer] needs to be aware of this," Heacock says. "There's significant savings to be found here, and that's just from the tax benefit."

The International Telework Association & Council will track the idea and any subsequent proposal as it moves from Armey's office, says John Edwards, ITAC president and founder of Telework Network, a Sterling, Va., consultancy. Telework gained a heightened profile when the Occupational Safety & Health Administration proposed -- then abandoned -- safety guidelines for teleworkers' home offices, Edwards explains. Now people should continue to follow this proposal in hopes of bringing telework home to their own companies.

America has a lot to learn from governments overseas, explains Edwards. In Japan and Europe, national leaders have supported telework with funding and research. Except for departmental initiatives from the General Services Administration and the Office of Personnel Management, in the U.S., the issue remains on the back burner.

Also, Edwards wonders whether the federal government will propose not only incentives, but threaten to withhold federal highway dollars from those states that refuse to offer incentives of their own.

Japan has used government-sponsored telework to make itself more competitive, Edwards says. "Europe hass spent millions and millions of euros on it, and America has spent nothing. Hopefully this will be the beginning of something with teeth in it. It looks very promising, so we just hope something comes from it."

This story, "The feds take a baby step toward telework " was originally published by Network World.

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