Telecommuting Two Days a Week Could Save Billions

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According to a study by Telework Exchange, 78 percent of Americans are looking to decrease the amount of money and time spent on commuting by taking fewer car trips and being more efficient when it comes to running errands and balancing costs. Photo: Flickr/Andrea Vascellari

For some, telecommuting is a worker’s dream. Working from home means not having to worry about catching the 8 o’clock train or getting dressed in uncomfortable business suits each day. It translates in many workers’ minds to less pressure, more flexibility and increased productivity. But aside from simply less hassle, what are the environmental benefits of telecommuting?

According to a 2008 study conducted by Telework Exchange, a company that aims to increase telecommuting options for workers, around 9.7 billion gallons of gas and $38.2 billion can be saved each year, if only 53 percent of all white-collar workers telecommuted two days per week.

The study also found that 84 percent of Americans depend on their own means of transportation to travel to and from work. On average, these workers spend $2,052 on gas and 264 hours of travel time a year just on commuting alone.

The rising price of gas, especially, has influenced the way Americans approach jobs. Twenty-eight percent of Americans want a job that involves less travel time and travel costs, and 92 percent of workers believe that their job can be completed by telecommuting, though only 39 percent telework on a regular basis.

Research network Undress4Success estimates that the United States could save $500 billion a year, reduce Persian Gulf oil imports by 28 percent and take the equivalent of 7 million cars off the road if workers were allowed to telecommute just half the time.

Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs, says it was her own job search that led her to realize the challenges involved in finding a telecommuting position that was not a scam. FlexJobs, a Web site that specializes in promoting legitimate telecommuting and freelancing work, boasts a 98 percent customer satisfaction rate and has been featured on popular media outlets like CNN, Yahoo! Finance, Forbes.com and AOL.

“Telecommuting offers numerous environmental benefits,” Fell says. “The most profound include reducing pollution and carbon emissions associated with transportation, reducing oil consumption and minimizing carbon footprints with lower office energy use and business travel.”

“Telecommuters use far less paper than their office-worker counterparts, more often scanning and faxing documents instead of printing. Also, they tend to use online document storage much more than paper file cabinets,” she adds.

Even in a city like New York where most commuters combine walking with various forms of public transportation to get to work, telecommuting has its environmental benefits.

“Although public transportation is much better environmentally speaking than driving your own car, they still create more pollution and carbon emissions than simply walking,” Fell says. “And large office buildings are often highly inefficient in terms of energy usage. Much smaller carbon footprints are created by working from home.”

Aside from the ecological advantages of working from home, telecommuting has been known to increase productivity among workers who, as a result of being able to telework, can concentrate more on assignments than on office distractions. Fell explains that telecommuting can also reduce the number of sick/vacation days workers use, providing them with more flexibility in the event that personal needs or family issues arise.

“I believe that if everyone could integrate telecommuting into their jobs where it makes sense, the world and our communities and our families would be better for it. No one seems to have enough time to get everything done, so first it could put some time back in our pockets,” Fell says.

“Telecommuting doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. Some jobs can be done entirely remotely, and many others would simply be much better if they would allow employees to work from home one day a week,” she notes. “For others, condensing a 40-hour work week into 4 days – such as the state of Utah and others have done with resounding success – means a 20 percent reduction of pollution, gas consumption and carbon footprint for all of those employees, not to mention cost savings for the company.”

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  • deborah

    I still don’t understand how the US government can continue to as irresponsible in their laissez faire attitude concerning pollution by not offering benefits to companies who offer telework or at the very least creating legislation forcing larger corporations to comply for at 10-20% work time.

    Can we really afford to create more pollution and oil dependency???

    I use to think we were the leaders of innovation but the US governents snooze-enthusiasm over this matter has left me wondering if we won’t be left in a cloudy dust of pollution and the stale smell of following new more innovative world powers taking the lead.

    COME ON LET’S WAKE UP!

  • Jason

    “And large office buildings are often highly inefficient in terms of energy usage. Much smaller carbon footprints are created by working from home.”

    I’d challenge that statement; is a single building that houses 1,000 people really less efficient than 1,000 people heating/cooling and lighting 1,000 homes? I’d have to doubt that. Also, bear in mind that say 300 people work from home, that 1,000 person office will consume more or less the same energy with 700 people in it as 1,000, so you’re adding energy consumption for the 300 who are now consuming energy at home.

    The question here is whether heating/cooling and lighting a home that would otherwise be empty during the day uses less energy than that used to commute. In the UK, and statistics will be available for other countries too, average household emissions are greater than that household’s car emissions, so a much more detailed analysis than is suggested by this article and the NSF/Telework Exchange data it is based upon would be required to determine the impact of increased household occupancy. As a committed environmentalist I advocate sound measures for emissions reduction, but in this instance it will depend very much on the profile of the employer and its workforce and so for some it will be very worthwhile and others it may be marginal or could produce greater emissions, and reductions should be sought elsewhere, e.g. car share schemes, cycle-to-work facilities.

    As a 1-in-10 day work-at-home guy I’d fully endorse the health benefits from a work/life balance point of view, however, not to mention out-of-pocket cost savings which probably save me £500 a year in travel and meals.

  • Kathy

    Jason, 1000 homes don’t have all the lights on all the time and those workers who are in that 1000 person building are heating their homes while they are away at work. if they stayed home, that 1000 person building could be darkened and the heat turned way down (or air conditioning) thus making a savings. And think of how many of those 1000 person buildings there are in London. The savings would be HUGE.

  • http://www.globaltelematics.com John Niles

    Most telecommuting employees are positive that their personal productivity rises when they work from home or a remote site. Many managers and business owners are not so certain.

    Furthermore, organizational productivity in a face-to-face environment may face a larger detraction when a highly productive member goes home to work compared to staying in the office and being somewhat less productive because she is serving as a role model and being distracted by helping others. The boss may think this is the case.

    At the end of the day, organizational arrangements including the geographic location of workers are the responsibility of organizational managers, not legislators “forcing larger corporations to comply [with a telecommuting requirement] for at 10-20% work time.”

    Furthermore, there are a fair number of organizational employees who would rather work in an office next to other people, not stay at home with the [dog, live-in invalid mother-in-law, neighbor constantly firing up the chainsaw, squalid undersized but affordable flat, etc, etc.]

  • http://www.gracetiscareno-sato.com Graciela Tiscareno-Sato

    I’ve been working at least three or four days a week from home for over seven years. I’ve joined the ranks of the “anti-commuters” as we call ourselves here in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’ll commute only to collaborate with others or to meet a client or editor. Just to do my content creation work, never. :-)

    This question of how to get more companies doing it is really one of organizational behavior and change management. As a marketing manager of unified communications and collaboration technologies in my prior position, we always touted the financial and environmental benefits of deploying technologies that make remote collaboration possible for telecommuters. I found that typically the managerial resistance could NOT be broken down with financial and environmental arguments alone. As long as the CEO says, “I just need to look out the window and see my employees’ cars in the parking lot,” (or other lame equivalent that demonstrate they’re need to control/oversee trumps anything else) a company just won’t do it. Sad but true.

  • http://www.remoteofficecenters.com aullman

    It is hard to argue against the efficiency that could be gained by shifting more workers to a telecommuting workplace model. The question is how to make it possible for more workers to skip the long daily commute.

    Many employees and employers are hesitant to jump in the telecommuting pool. They don’t have confidence in broadband supplied by the people that provide cable tv. Many workers are also concerned about mixing workplace and home.

    There is a good solution to both of these fears. Home telecommuting is only one option for telecommuters. Another option is to work from a remote office. Remote Office Centers lease office space, phone systems and network access to workers from different companies in shared facilities that can be located anywhere. This is just one more option for workers looking to cut out long, wasteful daily commutes. The main goal is to get more people off the road. It is infinitely more efficient to work from a location down the street rather than spend an hour commuting each way every day.