Who Needs a Cubicle? Tennessee Takes Teleworking to the Max

For Tennessee state employees, the concept of individual offices, cubicles, and desks, adorned with family photos and mementos, is becoming a thing of the past. The state’s ambitious new approach to the workplace, Alternative Workplace Solutions (AWS), goes far beyond traditional telecommuting – and in addition to boosting employee morale and productivity, it’s saving the state millions of dollars.

According to Governing:

In exchange for giving up their desk or office, participating employees can work remotely (either at home or in the field) full- or part-time. When they do come into the office, they can select from a variety of seating options — standing desks, lounge areas, conference rooms. They have lockers for personal possessions. The best schedule for each person is evaluated individually.

Since mid-2016, when the program launched, 16 departments have given employees the option, with 6,000 of them taking it. About 27,000 of the Tennessee executive branch’s 38,000 employees could eventually be eligible, according to Evan Smith, a senior management consultant who runs the AWS program.

In the first two years of implementation, AWS has racked up an impressive record of benefits. According to internal Tennessee surveys, 60 percent of managers say employees have improved productivity and 80 percent of employees say they have a better work-life balance. Participating agencies have recorded a 37 percent reduction in sick leave use, and the state estimates that the average employee is saving $1,800 a year on gas. By the end of this fiscal year, Tennessee says it will have likely cut its real-estate rental costs by $6.5 million. Next year, it plans to sell one of its downtown Nashville office buildings, which is no longer needed. That could give the state an extra $40 to $60 million.

While AWS is extremely popular amongst state employees and administrators, its success did not come without some growing pains.

“Early on, the resisters were at the managerial level,” says Trish Holliday, the state’s chief learning officer. “Managers didn’t know how to get the work done if they didn’t have everybody there.”

To solve that problem, an intensive training process now precedes implementation of AWS in each department. Employees and managers learn the importance of clear expectations and of focusing on results. Constant communication and team-building exercises get a lot of emphasis.

The Tennessee State Legislature approved $18.5 million for the rollout of AWS. That funding has been instrumental for overhauling traditional office spaces and upgrading IT infrastructure. Departments have also accelerated efforts to digitize paper files and are focused on improving communications technology so that team members can easily stay in touch with each other and share information online securely and seamlessly.

The State of Maryland has recognized the changing nature of its workforce and has begun to focus on ways to increase productivity while improving the quality of employee work life and morale. The State has a teleworking program which allows selected employees to work from home, a satellite office, or a Telework Center on an occasional basis.

Most teleworkers report that they get more done and are more satisfied with their jobs as a result of teleworking. The shortened commute decreases employee travel expenses and commuting stress, while increasing the amount of time teleworkers have for professional and personal pursuits.

Teleworkers also enjoy a greater degree of work-related autonomy and responsibility. Properly handled, teleworking can make it easier to manage dependent care arrangements and create job opportunities for employees with disabilities.

In addition, teleworking has proven to be an effective tool for promoting environmental conservation by decreasing traffic congestion and automobile related emissions. Additionally, telecommuting usually results in the more efficient use of office space, as less office space is needed to house workers.

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