FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Time for a National Telecommuting Initiative?

A recent study of telecommuting conducted by the National Technology Readiness Survey revealed two startling pieces of information:

  • If all workers in the US who are able to telecommute actually worked from home an average of 1.6 days per week, the gasoline savings would total $3.9 billion (not to mention reduced car emissions, less stress and more productive time).

  • However, only one quarter of those capable of telecommuting do so, and 14% of workers who have the option of telecommuting choose not to.

Surely, there are valid reasons why people don't telecommute even when given the ability. In some organizations, the perception may linger that teleworkers are less productive and less engaged than their in-office colleagues, or that telecommuting is somehow unprofessional. Even with a variety of electronic communication at their disposal, many organizations still place a premium on "face time." More ambitious employees may feel that working from home may hurt their career path. Some may not have a home environment that's conducive to work (lots of small children, for instance). Others may simply miss the face-to-face interaction of the workplace and the company of their co-workers.

The energy savings alone should be enough to prompt a national initiative to encourage telecommuting. Sooner or later, our government is going to have to face reality when considering the value of energy conservation, which can yield immediate and concrete benefits. Businesses should be encouraged to allow and promote telecommuting wherever possible, and maybe even receive tax credits for employees who work at home a minimum number of days per week.

Later this summer, when the media give President Bush his annual lumps for taking an extended "working vacation" at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, perhaps they should instead hold him up as a role model for telecommuting. After all, the business of state goes on regardless of the season or the President's physical location, and his staff ensure that the Teleworker-in-Chief is just as wired in Crawford as he would be in Washington.

UPDATE: Jonathan Shaw's Fixing Foibles and Follies blog cites this post, and adds one other reason for making telecommuting a national priority -- the possibility that, in the event of a bird flu or similar pandemic, telecommuting might be a necessity to keep the economy going.

UPDATE 2: An article in Red Herring suggests that the combination of high gas prices, the proliferation of broadband Internet, tools such as instant messaging that allow for informal chatting, and the move of the "MySpace Generation" into the workforce will create a "telecommuting explosion" in the coming years (or maybe even months). "There is a perceived risk that the telecommuter will not be taken seriously by the company..." the article says. "The perceived risk will only begin diminishing as younger workers who are currently about 20 years old and younger begin having an effect on the workplace." (via Velcro City Tourist Board)

UPDATE 3: Techdirt notes the elimination of telecommuting at HP due to purported abuse. However, commenters theorized that such a cutback could be construed as a layoff by proxy, forcing workers to quit by making their lives miserable.

Source: Reuters (via Excite)