Telecommuting: Crossing the Threshold to Work, Part 2
Part 2 of my series is now online at the Tracy Press Web Site. Posted below is the unedited version. Hmmm, I need to finish Part 3 now. I better get to it! 🙂
Before you read, this is interesting.
Part 2: Telecommuting wants you!
TeleWork vs Telecommuting
Since I co-wrote a Telecommuting Plan many years ago, a new term has appeared: TeleWork. Some experts argue that “telework” is more accurate than “telecommuting” since it describes the act of “working” while telecommuting emphasizes the act of “commuting”. That may be good for others, but, we live in and around Tracy, CA and the fact of the matter is: We commute. And we commute a lot. Sooooo, for this series, I believe the word “telecommute” is more accurate for our particular situation even though I may insert “telework” occasionally just to keep current.
Who can telecommute?
If your work day is typical of what was described in Part 1 of this series (that is, you spend most of the day on the phone, on the computer, designing or researching, or in meetings) you can telecommute one, two, or more days a week.
The ideal telecommuter is someone who can work independently and is not easily distracted by the need to wash clothes, mow the lawn, or play with the dog. For that person, the telecommute day can, productively, be used to think, to catch up on writing, to place calls to prospective clients, or “virtually” attend meetings anywhere in the world.
Where can you telecommute?
In the old days, a telecommuter had two choices of work location: home or a telecommute center. For various reasons, telecommute centers never really took off, so the vast majority of original telecommuters worked from home using a telephone and a yellow pad. Yeah, the concept of telecommuting has been around a long time.
These days, technology is such that with a cell phone, a laptop computer, and Wi-Fi Internet connections a person can telecommute effectively and fully from virtually anywhere: Hotels, restaurants, airport, train, or the wilds of Montana. In Tracy, I have connected to the Internet, via excellent Wi-Fi connections, at McDonalds, Barnes & Noble, and Starbucks. In fact, since I have been working full-time at home, there have been times when a trip to Barnes & Noble to work has been a sanity/marriage saver.
Although many of the benefits listed below focus on the telecommuter (you!), please don’t misunderstand: Telecommuting should not be thought of as a privilege solely for the employee. Instead it should be considered an alternate work environment that has significant benefits for BOTH the employee and the employer.
One of the most easily definable cost savings for the telecommuter is the money you can save on gas. Since gas prices are being manipulated to higher and higher prices, the less you drive your car, the more you save.
Let’s look at some typical gas costs and savings.
My friend, Clint Wadsworth, drives everyday from Manteca to Berkeley. Clint’s drive is about 150 miles per day round trip. He drives his pickup truck which gets about 15 miles per gallon (not atypical for a commuter with an SUV). At the time of this writing, Chevron, off of 205, was selling gas at about $3.25 per gallon.
Let’s do some calculations (get your calculator out and check my math) based on Clint’s typical work week (By the way, Clint has a job that qualifies him to telecommute):
- 150 miles per day x 5 days = 750 miles driven to and from work per week.
- 750 miles/15 miles per gallon = 50 gallons of gas consumed per week.
- 50 gallons x $3.25 per gallon = $162.50 for gas per week (or about $8125 per year assuming a 50 week work year). Yikes!
If Clint were to telecommute one day a week he would save $32.50 per week ($162.50/5) or about (again assuming a 50 week work schedule) $1625.00 saved per year. If he were to telecommute 2 days a week, double the savings to $3250.00 per year. That works out to a monthly savings of about $135 to $270 per month. That is quite a chunk of change if you were to invest that in an IRA rather than global warming.
Looking at an even more valuable commodity, Clint can save time by telecommuting. Clint tells me that he takes about 1.5 hours getting to work and another 1.5 hours getting home. He does this by starting his day at 4 AM and leaving work at 2 PM. If he left during the height of rush hour, that time could easily stretch to 2 hours or more. Believe me, I know.
Using his 1.5 hour estimate, the time Clint saves in transit by telecommuting one day a week is about three hours per week, or 150 hours per year. 150 hours means that six full days are now available for Clint to be with his family, or to devote extra time working for his boss. If he were to telecommute two days a week, that saving would double to 300 hours per year, or 12 full days. A bit of his life regained.
Over the course of 20 years, Clint regains 3000 to 6000 hours of his life and saves $32,500 to $65,000 in gas (assuming $3.25 is the max price, and we all know that ain’t gonna happen). Imagine how much you could save by telecommuting three or four days a week, or for the whole week!
The above are just the “hard” calculations. What about the “soft” benefits? How often do you find yourself needlessly passing a slower vehicle and cursing at them (and they back at you)? How often do you find yourself in gridlock and stressed to the max because you are going to be late for work or a meeting? How many accidents happen in a typical day on 205 or 580? One or two days a week telecommuting reduces the risks and studies have shown that a telecommuter is less stressed, happier, and works harder.
That is where your employer reaps the benefits, and more:
- Employee productivity increases
- Employee satisfaction is higher
- Employee retention is higher
- Office space is freed up, as are parking spaces (Berkeley Lab, where Clint works, has an acute parking problem)
- The organization can save money on utilities
- The employer can hire qualified people regardless of where they live
- The organization can begin to meet any green initiative goals they may be striving for
From a state and local government perspective, fewer cars on the road means there is less need to build, or expand, roads. Fewer cars being started and driven means less pollution in the air which means a better environment and a happier Al Gore. Telecommuters may go out to lunch near home helping to contribute to Tracy’s local economy.
Long range pessimists are encouraging telecommuting in the unfortunate event something happens again that prevents people from getting together in a single workplace.
- The events on 9/11 decimated entire companies. Because of that day, many companies now understand the benefit of geographically dispersing employees. It is very hard for terrorism to reach everyone when they are scattered. Personal note: The Internet is very robust. That September morning I worked (from home) with folks at Columbia University in NYC to provide them with Internet-based telephony and videoconferencing via our gateway in Berkeley. Columbia was on-line and operational when others were down.
- If a pandemic like the avian flu develops (and many experts predict it will) then working from home allows the company to stay afloat, and governments to keep running, while saving lives by limiting the spread of the virus.
What are the downsides?
From the employees’ perspective, there is the fear that their career potential will be negatively impacted if they are away from the office. Unfortunately, this may be a valid concern (see below). They also fear isolation and can miss the camaraderie at work (this is why telecommuting 1 to 2 days a week is a nice balanced approach to start).
Personal Note: When I was telecommuting, there were times when I did get a bit lonely, and I am the type of person who enjoys being alone. However, thanks to videoconferencing, when the lonely bug struck, I simply connected by video to the office. I was “virtually” there. I could hear the cubicle chatter and see people walk by my cube. Occasionally someone would wave to me, or come into the cubicle to chat. Not to get too far ahead of myself, but, it is very easy to set up a videoconferencing system by the watercooler (a virtual watercooler), or in a break room, to encourage interaction with remote personnel.
From the employer’s perspective, the OFB, old fashioned boss, (many of who are still working and teaching young future bosses (YFB) the same values) wants to see their employees “hard at work” in their cubicle. The OFB thinks that if an employee is not there, they are not working. The OFB can also fear the loss of control over the employees work. They like to have their employees close at hand. Word to YFB’s: Telecommuting is good!
There may be costs involved such as: providing support, providing computer and other equipment, or paying for Internet connectivity. There is also the need to develop, and deliver, training to both the employee and employer and the OFB or YFB must work with the employee to set up specific goals to measure the telecommuters’ effectiveness.
In Part 3, we will take a look at what the employer and employee must do to make the telecommuting experience a positive one.
Until then, give telecommuting a try, stay home one day and work!