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Published on December 18th, 2007 | by Stephanie Evans

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Telecommuting to Spare the Air and Save the Planet

Although today there are many companies exploring and implementing telecommuting programs to allow their employees to work part- or full-time from home offices, many more could be doing the same.

Companies that offer alternative working arrangements stand to benefit just as much as the individuals that they serve.  In fact, telecommuting offers numerous benefits to employers, workers, and the environment.

Evolving technological innovations are making telework an even more viable alternative to the drudgery of long, traffic-jammed commutes and windowless, stress-filled office spaces.  As broadband internet becomes more accessible, more workers have enough bandwidth at home to easily engage in the virtual infrastructure of their workplaces.  Telecommuting reduces costs for both employers and individuals, and contributes significantly to the reduction of greenhouse gases.  While telecommuting does present some challenges, advocates continue to work to minimize the issues preventing some employers from adopting telecommuting practices, which provide undeniable personal and ecological advantages.

Recent studies suggest that more than 45 million people in the U.S. telecommute at least once a week.

Gateway to GreenIn spite of telecommuting’s growing popularity, people who work at home still only make up about 3.6% of America’s workforce.  Each person in the remainder of the working population spends, on average, more than 100 hours commuting to work each year.  This statistic reveals that many more companies could be exploring and implementing telecommuting programs.  In doing so, they stand to benefit just as much as the individuals they employ.  One of the advantages of having a virtual workforce is the reduction or elimination of the need for office space, and the related costs incurred by overhead and utilities.

Employer Benefits

The distance provided by a telecommuting situation gives hiring managers the added luxury of being more selective when they choose candidates for job openings, allowing them to build highly-skilled teams of professionals from all over the country.  With the aid of ever-evolving technological tools such as virtual private networks, videoconferencing, and voice-over IP (providers which route voice conversations over the internet or another internet protocol-based network), obstacles like remote distance are quickly becoming obsolete.

A series of additional employer benefits arise from the fact that their telecommuting employees do not have to leave their homes to come to work.  This factor eliminates the problem of employees arriving to work late, and often harried, due to rush-hour traffic or residual delays from traffic accidents.  It also means that work is less likely to be interrupted or left undone when outside factors such as severe weather prevent employees from driving to work.  In addition, it has proven to be true that telework-friendly companies reap the benefits of having happier and more dedicated employees who appreciate the flexibility and the level of trust that their position affords.  When people are more satisfied with their jobs, they tend to be more productive as well.

Seeing as the typical U.S. household spends 18% of its income on driving costs– more, even, than it spends on food– telecommuting offers a viable way to offset the steep expenses of gas and automobile maintenance.

Employee Benefits

Working from Home Home-based work aids individuals in maintaining a better life/work balance, sparing them long absences from home and their families, allowing parents the flexibility to shape their workday around their children’s school activities, and to be available when they are needed by family members.  Telecommuting saves workers the considerable cost and trouble of driving to work to do jobs that they could just as easily, even more easily, do at home.

Telecommutes also allow people with disabilities which interfere with driving ability to take part in job opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable to them.  Seeing as the typical U.S.  household spends 18% of its income on driving costs– more, even, than it spends on food– telecommuting offers a viable way to offset the steep expenses of gas and automobile maintenance.  One study reports that we could save about 1.35 billion gallons of fuel a year if everyone who was able to telecommute, did so just 1.6 days a week.

Saving on gas also leads to lower gas prices.  The less dependent we are on gasoline, the more dependent the gas companies become on us.  The more telecommuters there are, the more likely we will see gas prices drop.  In using less gasoline, we contribute to improved air quality.  Fewer vehicles on the road results in fewer greenhouse gases, less traffic congestion, and improved highway safety.  And unlike projects to implement mass-transit systems and road improvements, which can take years of red tape and millions of dollars to make a reality, telecommuting programs can be implemented immediately with instantaneous and productive results.

Telecommuting Challenges

While the advantages of telecommuting are numerous, it also presents a handful of challenges as well.  Not everyone is suited to work in a self-managed environment, and some individuals find that they can only be productive in a more structured office setting.  Furthermore, not all home environments are conducive for work.  Someone who works at home must be self-motivated, able to keep to a schedule, and not have too many distractions.  Another difficulty teleworkers sometimes encounter is a feeling of alienation from their jobs.  They may miss the camaraderie of working with others, or feel that no one notices the work that they do.  In cases such as these, “telework centers” can be viable alternative.  These are off-site centers often closer to home, which offer a less distracting and more highly-structured environment to work in.

Another option is for workers to telecommute part time, going into the office at least once a week to maintain a personal and physical connection to the company, its processes, and their fellow workers.Telecommuting offers challenges for employers as well.  Some employers are uncomfortable with the idea that they have no control over the day-to-day performance of their workers, and may feel as if their employees are not working as hard as they might be if they were in the office.  In the case of telecommuting, flexible policies obtain the best results.  The home-based employee/employer relationship must be oriented toward results rather than an effort to control a worker’s every move.  Employer concerns over data security, such as electronic or physical information or company assets located off-site, are another drawback of telecommuting, though this is an area in which technological advances are rapidly improving.  While the various hurdles of telecommuting are not easily navigated, the positive impact is undeniable.   The fact that telecommuting positively touches on such a wide range of personal and environmental issues suggests that, as we see more companies adopting this practice, it will be to the benefit of our satisfaction as workers, and to the benefit of our planet as a whole.

Article Contributors: Julie Reid





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