COMMENTARY

The evidence speaks in favor of telework

GSA and USPTO prove the benefits are real

Note: This article was updated at 12:04 p.m. Nov. 10 to include the latest estimates from the Telework Research Network. 

The payoffs from telework are undeniable.

Employers benefit from reduced costs, increased productivity, greater flexibility in their workforce and better hiring appeal.

Employees benefit from reduced travel time and commuting costs, flexible hours, a better balance of work and family, and the option of working in bunny slippers.

And society benefits from reduced pollution and traffic congestion, which makes life easier for those whose jobs require they work on-site or in the field.

General Services Administration Administrator Martha Johnson, for one, makes a compelling case for telework, as GCN’s William Jackson reports in this issue.

In a pilot program in Kansas City, Mo., 42 GSA employees worked from home for 90 days, resulting in increased productivity, reduced sick leave, better communication among employees and 30 fewer metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere. Overall, 85 percent of GSA employees are eligible to telework, and 42 percent of those eligible work outside the office at least two days per pay period, a rate Johnson said GSA plans to increase.

Increasing those rates only increases the benefits. A 2010 study by the Telework Research Network found 41 million U.S. residents working from home half of the time would buy 5.7 billion fewer gallons of gasoline a year, saving about $47 million a day. Oil imports could be cut by 37 percent and greenhouse gases would be reduced by 53 million metric tons a year — equivalent to taking almost 10 million cars off the road.

The Telework Exchange estimates that if all federal employees teleworked two days per week, the workforce would save $3.3 billion and reduce pollutants by 2.7 million tons a year.

Of course, not all employees, whether federal, state, local or private-sector, can telework. Some things just can’t be done off-site. But an awfully large portion of workers need only a secure computer connection and a phone of some kind for their jobs, and for them, the benefits of telework are real. And the technology is there.

None of this is a secret — the advantages of working remotely from home or at an agency telework center have been known and touted by proponents for years. But telework has often run up against resistance in organizations, with managers playing the heavy.

They fear losing control of their workforce, express concerns over incompatible technology in the home office and say some employees simply need a hands-on approach.

That’s no doubt true in certain cases. But overall, the evidence in favor of telework is becoming overwhelming because, for government, it’s no longer a projection or theory. Examples at GSA and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office have proven its value.

Resistant managers might be concerned about a worst-case scenario in which a dispersed, unseen workforce loses its way, and they might worry about how it would reflect on them. But consider the hard evidence: If you can cut costs and increase productivity, doesn’t that make a manager look good?

Reader Comments

Mon, Nov 8, 2010 Kate Lister

Hi There: As the author of the study you reference, I thought I ought to point out the gas savings number is billions of gallons, not trillions. In any event, new numbers have since come in from the census bureau. Here are the current potential savings: Less than 2% of U.S. employees work from home the majority of the time (not including the self-employed), but 40% hold jobs that are compatible with telework. If those employees who wanted to (about 80%) did so just half of the time (roughly the national average for those who do): The Nation would: - Save 289 million barrels of oil—equivalent to 37% of our Persian Gulf imports - Reduce greenhouse gases by 53 million tons/year—27% of the President’s 2020 goal - Reduce road travel by 115 billion miles/year saving $2 billion in road maintenance - Reduce road congestion thereby increasing productivity for non-telecommuters as well - Save 100,000 people from traffic-related injury or death - Improve emergency responsiveness - Reduce pollution from road work and new office construction - Preserve open spaces - Reduce the number of latchkey kids - Alleviate the strain on our crumbling transportation infrastructure - Reduce the offshoring of jobs and homeshore some that have already been lost - Raise the standard of living in rural and disadvantaged areas - Open new avenues for workforce retraining - Reduce terrorism targets of opportunity In total, that’s an economic impact of almost $650 billion a year! At the TeleworkResearchNetwork we've synthesized over 250 case studies, scholarly reviews, research papers, books, and other documents on telecommuting and related topics. And we've interviewed the nation’s largest and smallest virtual employers and their employees, corporate executives, telework advocates and naysayers, top researchers, legislators, legal representatives, leaders of successful telework advocacy programs in both the public and private sector, and venture capitalists who have invested in the remote work model. Our research has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, and dozens of other publications. Using the latest Census data, and assumptions from dozens of government and private sector sources, we've developed a model to quantify the economic, environmental, and societal potential on telecommuting for every, city, county, Congressional District, and state in the nation. It's been used by company and community leaders throughout the U.S. and Canada. It's available free on the web along with a model that allows companies and communities to quantify their own potential telecommuting savings. Complex models, based on over two dozen parameters, are available to evaluate unique community and company situations. More about telecommuting, the pros and cons, who's doing it, and other resources for companies, individuals and researchers are available free at the TeleworkResearchNetwork.com.

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