Our protective services agency runs a call center that takes reports of abuse or neglect. It’s open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. The agency is using a phased approach that will eventually have 75 percent of the agency’s 427 staff teleworking full time by Jan. 1, 2015. The agency expects having more teleworkers to improve workload coverage, better manage business continuity events, reduce real estate footprint, and provide cost-savings and flexibility benefits to staff.

On the mobile side, our agency responsible for health regulation has for several years had about 60 of its inspectors equipped with technology that frees them from needing dedicated office space. We’re now working to get a better understanding of mobile work’s return on investment by quantifying the benefits of this mobility through the implementation of a mobile milk and dairy inspection pilot project.

Several years ago, the Texas Legislature provided funding for our protective services agency to purchase tablet PCs for its workers. This allowed them to document their investigative notes in the field — the same day or the day after they made a visit — and has increased job efficiency and freed up more time for direct work with clients. The agency now has over 1,700 mobile caseworkers, and based on the positive results from use of the tablets, it’s created a strategic plan with the goal of having 100 percent of its 6,000 caseworkers mobile. The new plan is titled GoMobile and will help reduce travel costs and our office footprint.

In considering an expansion of virtual work for HHS, how much do you anticipate saving? What costs will be involved?

We do not yet have good enough data to construct a return on investment for adopting the virtual workforce business model where it makes sense to do so. What is clear is that, given the success of many other organizations — private and public — in adopting a virtual workforce business model, the responsible thing to do is to make sure we have a better understanding of what the potential benefits are to HHS agencies and what the associated costs are, and that we provide that information to the governor and the Legislature for use in their deliberations of funding for our agencies.

I’ve established a governance body of agency chief operating officers to oversee the effort. Over the next few months, they’ll be working to help get more precise information on the costs and benefits of expanding the virtual work business model for HHS agencies.

What reaction have you received from employees to the idea of telework?

Two-thirds of the employees responding to our annual Survey of Employee Engagement this year supported telework.

On the mobile work side, our experience suggests that staff like the flexibility of mobility. But of course, there are still staff around like me who might find it difficult to operate in a mobile work environment. But our sense is that the emerging workforce will have little difficulty being mobile. The world is changing. Just 10 years ago, who had a smartphone? Today, who doesn’t?

What will happen to the plans for more virtual workers when you retire at the end of the month?

When I leave August 31, there will be no “telework plan” in place. What will be in place are 1) the policy, training, research and experience to effectively support virtual work across all HHS agencies; and 2) a process to get better information about virtual work — its benefits and savings, its upfront and continuing technology costs — that can help the governor and legislators understand the value of these tools as they deal with funding issues for the HHS agencies.

This story first appeared on Governing.com.

Heather Kerrigan  |  GOVERNING contributor

Heather Kerrigan is the author of GOVERNING's Public Workforce newsletter. Prior to joining GOVERNING in 2006, she worked in the Office of Congressman Ron Kind of Wisconsin.