The Green Argument for Telecommuting

By Rebeldad Brian Reid

Last week, oil prices hit another record high, topping $126 a barrel and leading to a new rash of stories about gasoline spurting over $4 a gallon. Coincidently, my company opened a DC office last week, meaning that I'll be commuting (by car, rail and bike) at least part-time from now on. And that gave me plenty of time to think - while I sat in my car - about the green side of telecommuting.

I've spent time in this space talking about the selfish reasons why telecommuting works from a business point of view and enables better work-life balance, but the time has come to talk the trend seriously from an environmental perspective.

The folks at undress4success.com, a site focused on working from home, estimated that getting the 40 percent of Americans who could work from home off of the roads and into a home office would save 625 million barrels of oil a year, spare the atmosphere from 100 million tons of carbon dioxide and save us all $43 billion in gas costs.

You can take the analysis even further. Get people to teleconference and you have an impact on airplane emissions, and enough people working virtually means fewer buildings to power, heat and cool. But you don't even have to go that far. Teleworking even one day every two weeks should theoretically cut gas usage by 10 percent, which is hardly marginal.

Yet despite the frenzied coverage of the steady rise in gas prices (and the growing coverage of environmentally friendly lifestyle changes), there has been little chatter about employers looking at telecommuting as a way of taking the burden off their employers and the planet. The exceptions -- like the Virginia Department of Taxation -- seem thrilled with the arrangement.

Since all of you tend to be great about looking for ways to both help the planet and promote work-life balance, I'm curious if anyone has used the green line of argument to push for more common-sense telecommuting options at work. Have you seen any employers become more open on this or -- even better -- moved to encourage working from home on environmental grounds?

Brian Reid writes about parenting and work-family balance. You can read his blog at rebeldad.com.

Note to Readers: Guest blogs are on a short hiatus. Look for them to return in a few weeks.

By Brian Reid |  May 13, 2008; 6:45 AM ET  | Category:  Workplaces
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Until private companies and government is given a financial incentive to promote telecommuting, I don't think you will see it on a large scale. If there were large tax subsidies to companies and agencies (some sort of compensation), it won't happen.

Why? Because it is not their business to save on commuting costs of oil. Those costs are paid for by the employees. I think the best you might see is a higher public transportation subsidy.

Even with the increase in the cost of oil and the higher demand, the subsidy is not keeping pace with the cost.

It is a nice dream but US companies are not really going green until they see some advantage to them.

Posted by: foamgnome | May 13, 2008 7:45 AM

foam - I think the same argument could be made for on-site daycare and family leave. I think there are some companies who will see the greater value and some who don't. Just as there are individuals who take the time to recycle and those who don't. At the end of any given day, I do not get any real benefit from recycyling, but I take the time and sometimes pay to do it anyway. I think the greater challenge is for managers to figure out how to manage from afar.

Posted by: moxiemom | May 13, 2008 7:59 AM

Foamgnome-there already is a financial incentive to promote telecommuniting. The company doesn't have to provide desk/mortar space. Their buildings are thus way smaller (and thus greener). IBM does this in a big way. Very many RTP employees (dare I say the majority) telecommute. IBM doesn't pay for the space at home either. And woe to the taxpayer who tries to claim home exemptions!

Posted by: dotted | May 13, 2008 8:03 AM

I disagree that companies are not going to go green unless gov't creates a financial incentive. I think that the tide is turning. Just look at the proliferation of green marketing out there - everyone is trying to market their product as having enviro benefits. These companies must think that Americans want this. Some of the claims are just greenwashing but many are not. I think companies are going to adopt greener policies. It will take time and telecommuting might not be the first step but I think it will come. But, hey, I'm an optimist!

Posted by: Pt Fed Mof2 | May 13, 2008 8:06 AM

This is a very timely blog for me. We just formed a committee at work (which I'm on) to try to determine how we can increase the number of people who can telecommute. It's only done currently on an as-needed, infrequent basis by anyone other than attorneys. Our staff are really feeling the pinch of gas prices, on top of which the insurance premium went up 15% this year. And I'm sure I'm not the only Triangle resident who's noticed that mass transportation in this area stinks. It's appalling, what with the numbers that travel to RTP in particular on a daily basis.

Our first committee meeting is next week. And while I'm a bit skeptical about the ability of a committee to make some good decisions about this (my grandfather used to say "a moose is a horse made by a committee"), I'm going to be taking notes today!

Posted by: WorkingMomX | May 13, 2008 8:22 AM

Brian is absolutely right. I like this "green" argument. It is non-discriminatory, single, married people with no kids,and parents can use it without any perception of favoritism. Unfortunely, there is still very strong resistance in some organizations to the concept itself. I have tried to use the economic hardship argument to get 1 day a pay period telework (that's the new pc word for telecommuting at my agency) agreement and was told by my manager that he is also "feeling the pain" so no can do. Of course, the manager makes at least 30% more than I do......Until this type of attitude changes, I don't see how the culture of teleworking can take root.

Posted by: dc reader | May 13, 2008 8:29 AM

Companies will "go green" if they believe that it's worthwhile. That doesn't have to be a Government-created tax incentive, although that's one way. It could be that they believe that positive press will spin business their way (note the SC Johnson commercials about using methane from a landfill to power their plant), or that it will result in increased employee productivity, or better retention/easier recruiting. Lower costs in terms of smaller buildings/lower electric bills might factor in.

The bottom line is the bottom line. Companies don't do things for altruistic reasons. They do it because they believe that there's a tangible benefit to the company down the road.

That has to be balanced against the notions that are inherent in many companies'/people's minds. Command and control is paramount, and I have to see you work to know that you work. There are two aspects to that. The first is a belief that people are lazy goof-offs who won't work. If I'm not there to see you work, you'll be playing solitaire, surfing porn or talking on the phone all day long.

The second is creating managerial value. As your supervisor, I have to supervise you to justify my position. If I can't convince senior management that I increase productivity and reduce costs by my presence, then there's no reason to employ me, and there's certainly no reason to promote me to senior management.

So the trick is to win the competition between these two aspects of the problem. Convince the company that there's a long-term win in supporting telework and other "green" activities. Tell them what that win is, and quantify it the best you can. Then work to overcome the command-and-control mindset that says I must see you or you're not working.

Good luck!

Posted by: ArmyBrat | May 13, 2008 8:45 AM

A big hurdle to telecommuting is companies with the attitude that if not everyone in the company has access to it, no one should. I think it is really that the big guys in suits are wary of the concept, but they say that it wouldn't be fair to those whose jobs can't telework. For example, I am a teacher. Clearly I can't telework. But there are many others in my county who can--HR, etc. Maybe not all the time, but one day every two weeks should be workable. But the county won't let anyone telework because "it isn't fair to the teachers." Well, I say it isn't fair to me to keep gas prices and car emissions so high. Let those who can telework. I'm an adult enough to deal with it.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 13, 2008 8:50 AM

I'm just about to start telecommuting one day a week - everyone in our office is, because we've flat run out of desk space and it's the only way to make room. We're also a pilot program for the larger group, so there's a lot of pressure to show that we can perform at a high level while we're doing this. There's still a HUGE perception that "work from home" = "day off", and that's got to change before any forward movement happens.

The government could start with their own programs, seriously. There's this huge telecommute mandate, but in practice, NOBODY gets to do it, because everyone's afraid that if they let employee x do it, then employee y will take advantage of it. Around here, the government employees can work from home one day a month - big whoop. (And that's only after their position has undergone a full review and they get nine kinds of special permission.) If they'd only follow their own rules, the DC area would probably use half the gas it does now.

Posted by: bd | May 13, 2008 9:01 AM

Teleworking will increase as increasing numbers of responsive, good employees show it can work. So long as a significant number of employees convert teleworking into an excuse for non-responsiveness, and employers get burned, it will have an uneven reputation.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 13, 2008 9:03 AM

It has been obvious that many people on this blog are in favor of telecommuting to provide balance in their lives. Going green is another justification for this.

However, if you are really interested in going green, then carpooling is another option. Companies could offer incentives such as subsidized and/or preferred parking for carpools. This would also help with balance as it would be harder to work past quitting time if your ride is leaving. Teleconferencing rather than travel would help with reduction in air travel as well as reduction in expenses to the company.

Posted by: another view | May 13, 2008 9:07 AM

anon @ 8:50 "But the county won't let anyone telework because "it isn't fair to the teachers." Well, I say it isn't fair to me to keep gas prices and car emissions so high. Let those who can telework. I'm an adult enough to deal with it."

Great; hooray for you. That's a very adult attitude. But I'm afraid that lots of others would disagree with you. Consider the number of people on this blog who scream bloody murder every time there's a suggestion of paid parental leave. Why, that's UNFAIR to those who don't become new parents. How DARE an employer offer a benefit to one but not to another? If she gets six weeks paid leave when she has a baby, I want six weeks paid leave for my purposes, too, or it's JUST NOT FAIR!

Which is to say that the argument "if we can't do it for all, won't do it for any" will hold sway in a lot of places for a long time, I'm afraid.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | May 13, 2008 9:08 AM

Consider the number of people on this blog who scream bloody murder every time there's a suggestion of paid parental leave. Why, that's UNFAIR to those who don't become new parents. How DARE an employer offer a benefit to one but not to another? If she gets six weeks paid leave when she has a baby, I want six weeks paid leave for my purposes, too, or it's JUST NOT FAIR!

Posted by: ArmyBrat | May 13, 2008 9:08 AM

Uh, no, that's not what bothers people. What bothers people is the argument that paid parental leave should be mandated by the government. I've never seen anyone on here say that it would be unfair for individual employers to provide paid parental leave if they choose to do so. People do argue against employers being required to do so, and/or having the leave subsidized by the government.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 13, 2008 9:26 AM

I telecommute and vanpool AND work for the government (DOD civilian). Convincing management to allow us to telework was a struggle; management tends to forget what the peons do and that we can easily take our work home one day a week. It's a great set up now and I really enjoy my day at home where I can get an absolute ton of work done.

Gas prices don't actually affect me too much. The gov subsidies my vanpool (seven of us in a minivan) so the total effect of rising gas prices has been about an extra $5-$10 a month per person.

I think the government example will start to make its way into industry. My friends in the other world are jealous of my set up (and the flex-time) and push for it at their companies. Once they're management, I imagine these things will be more prevalent.

Posted by: Em | May 13, 2008 9:34 AM

"Teleconferencing rather than travel would help with reduction in air travel as well as reduction in expenses to the company."

Of course, it would also put even more airline employees out of work, put more people who support the airline employees out of work, put all those people who build and maintain aircraft out of work, etc. etc. Ah, but the heck with them, they can just find other jobs, right?

Posted by: The other side | May 13, 2008 9:37 AM

Anonymous at 9:26, you're saying "I've never seen anyone on here say that it would be unfair for individual employers to provide paid parental leave if they choose to do so. People do argue against employers being required to do so, and/or having the leave subsidized by the government."

You obviously haven't been reading this blog for very long if you haven't seen that argument!! There are plenty CBC folks who think they should be allowed to get the same leave moms and dads get for their own pet projects (or their pets).

Posted by: WorkingMomX | May 13, 2008 9:38 AM

Our office has had a telecommuting policy for several years that allows an employee to work from home 1 day a week. Although the participants that telecommute understand that it is a benefit that can be removed at any time due to the mission of the organization or merely because the supervisors perceive it as an extra day off, it is highly unlikely that the option to telecommute will ever be taken away from anybody. Why? Because 90% of the employees who take advantage of the telecommuting option are women, and any supervisor that could take a huge benefit away from a group of women would be viewed as a criminal.

You go, girls! Keep up the good work!

Posted by: Votes for Women, Steppy Time | May 13, 2008 9:43 AM

anon @ 9:26: What? No one here has argued that if paid parental leave is offered then all employees should be given an equivalent amount of paid time off? I'm sorry, but you haven't been reading for very long.

Go to www.google.com and type

+"Washington Post" +"On Balance" +paid +parental +leave

and skim through the results.

Here's one that comes up quickly:

http://blog.washingtonpost.com/onbalance/2008/04/family_leave_fracas.html

That's the blog from April 18, less than four weeks ago.

From 8:46 am that day:
"I am against this policy since it is fair to only a few people, but does not seem to do anything to encourage companies to take up the same practice."

From 8:48 am on that day:
"Families have suvived for years. It doesn't need to be changed. However, if it is going to be changed, the government MUST give a similar (and equal) amount of paid leave to those NOT having kids (or already had kids). Say every 10 years you get 4-weeks paid extra vacation if you haven't used it for the birth/adoption of a kid."

I could go on, but it would pointless.

I stand by my assertion that the "if we can't do it for all employees, we won't do it for any because it wouldn't be fair" viewpoint is going to carry the day in a lot of organizations for a long, long time. (That was in response to a poster who said that he/she is adult enough to support telework for some employees in his/her organization even though the face time requirements of his his/her own job made it impossible.)

Posted by: ArmyBrat | May 13, 2008 9:50 AM

"What bothers people is the argument that paid parental leave should be mandated by the government."

I really don't understand why you object to this concept so vehemently. Most civilized countries governments mandate paid parental leave.

Posted by: not an american | May 13, 2008 9:53 AM

I think a lot of companies are holding off and going to offer telecommuting in place of raises. They know the employees will save money and are hoping to save money on raises next cycle.

Posted by: cynic | May 13, 2008 10:00 AM

--"Teleconferencing rather than travel would help with reduction in air travel as well as reduction in expenses to the company."

Of course, it would also put even more airline employees out of work, put more people who support the airline employees out of work, put all those people who build and maintain aircraft out of work, etc. etc. Ah, but the heck with them, they can just find other jobs, right?--

Working from home would affect those who work in public transportation, parking lot attendants, cafeteria workers, restaurants, delis, street vendors, gas station workers, possibly car sales (cars last longer, not replaced as often), etc. Any change will have an effect on someone else. When the govt was furloughed for several weeks, the businesses surrounding the govt offices took a huge hit.

Posted by: devil's advocate | May 13, 2008 10:16 AM

The thing about your arguments is the old saying "When God closes a door, somewhere he opens a window." (or something to that effect...)

The airline industry is constantly crying poverty and overwork - perhaps if their load is lessened they could be more efficient businesses and provide better service. Because business travel will never go away completely, and recreational travel certainly never will.

Not to mention - we need new airplanes. Lots of 'em. With airlines running in the black (or at least closer to it), maybe they can buy new planes from American companies. And then train more mechanics to maintain them in a more timely and appropriate manner.

As for the regional hit - I don't deny that. It just happened in SoCal, too, with the writers strike. But again, all offices will never go away completely - some companies simply require an office, because that's where they interact with clients/customers. It's human nature - sometimes you just need the face-to-face contact, so all the services you mentioned might be in lesser demand, but probably wouldn't disappear.

And besides, it opens up new avenues for those with entrepreneurial spirit.

Just because you telecommute or work from home, it doesn't mean that you always have time to do your domestic stuff. Nannies, cleaning services, dog walkers and personal assistants that cater to home-based workers could thrive.

Ergonomic specialists could have a hey-dey, coming in to people's homes and making sure their office is set up properly so workers don't get some form of repetitive-injury syndrome by working from an old stool at the kitchen counter. (Or, alternately, chiropractry could become the new, hot field...)

Personal trainers could try and get bands of home-based workers together for group training in someone's home during an odd afternoon hour, since running out at lunch might not be possible anymore (time zone differences put you in contact with different clients at different hours).

Someone could open a slightly more upscale "lunch-truck"-type service that cruises known neighborhoods of home-based workers so they can occasionally eat something else than last night's left-overs.

There will always be people who find ways to fill niches that no one realized were there.

Posted by: devil's advocate to devil's advocated | May 13, 2008 10:44 AM

I, too am a Fed that works on occasion with secure data. Even so, DOL has been working to find ways for its employees to work from home. I've been able to do so on occasion, and I think this movement is very important even to a non-mom, non-married like me.

I think of this debate as an economic one. As energy prices spike, people have been choosing to take public transportation where it is available. Similarly, as companies can use working at home as an incentive to lure workers concerned about the costs of additional energy consumption, this policy will become more popular.

Posted by: canary28 | May 13, 2008 11:05 AM

How does telecommuting one day a week save on office space. You would still need a desk for each employee for at least the other 4 days of the work week. The only way it would make a drastic savings, if you actually had office sharing. Meaning 50% of the time one person is in the office and the other 50% of the time the second person shares the office.

The government has had the telecommuting policies on the books for at least 12 years I have been with government. And truthfully, it has not been implemented on a large scale anywhere that I have heard about.

The most I have seen is one day per week but more like once every two weeks. It has not had any financial savings to the government at all.

In fact they show that the move to smaller cubicles and redesigning the office space has led to greater financial savings then the limited telecommuting policies.

Posted by: foamgnome | May 13, 2008 11:16 AM

I feel a song coming one. But not about today's topic but yesterdays. Sometimes, inspiration runs a bit late! Check back at high noon!

Posted by: Songster | May 13, 2008 11:21 AM

BTW, no SpongeBob take off today. A rather complex song today! "Seasons of Love" from Rent.

Posted by: Songster | May 13, 2008 11:22 AM

foamgnome: RTP's IBM employees telecommute almost 100% . When they need to come in to an office, they take whatever is there. IBM also saves on secretarial/staff support (meaning there is none). I know of quite of few companies whose processes support this. Any company whose scope is international, meaning groups composed of people in widely disparate locations, ends up with processes and a corporate telecommuting culture. IBM uses software to support telecommuting management...so management isn't a problem.

Telecommuting is only a problem if you want it to be. There already exist working solutions.

Posted by: dotted | May 13, 2008 11:51 AM

songster - can't wait!

Posted by: moxiemom | May 13, 2008 11:51 AM

Here it is a day late but the muses just weren't really with me yesterday.

Just in case you don't know the melody or song, which is one of the Songster's all time favorites, here it is

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Py_HRW-zg6k&feature=related

"Seasons of Love" from Rent

All:
Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand
Six Hundred Diapers
Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand
changes so near
Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand
Six Hundred Diapers
This is how a baby measures his first year!
In Giggles - In Burping
In Midnights - In Teething
In Crawling - In Walking
In Laughter - And in Tears

Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand
Six Hundred Diapers
How Do You Measure
A Year In The Life?

How About Love?
How About Love?
How About Love?
Measure In Love

A First Year of Love.
Many Years of Love.

Soloist:
Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand
Six Hundred Feedings
Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand
Meals To Plan

Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand
Six Hundred Diapers
What Else Can We Measure of Life
In That First Year?

2nd Soloist:
In Steps That She Learned
Or In Times That He Tried
In Blocks that he Built
Or The Way That She Cried

All:
It's Time Now - To Sing Out
Though The Changes Never End
Let's Celebrate
Remember the First Year of Our Little Friend

Remember the Sights
Remember the Sounds
Remember the Love
Measure The Love

1st Soloist:
Oh you got to you got to remember the love,
You know that love is a gift from up above
Share love, give love, spread love
Measure, measure his life in love.

ALL
First Year of Love(2x)

1st Soloist:
Measure her life, measure his life in love

Posted by: Songster | May 13, 2008 12:05 PM

As someone who "works to live" rather than "lives to work" I feel that I may not have the discipline to work from home. It would be so much harder to ignore the undone breakfast dishes, the regular to-do-list, the occasional home projects, the gardening, the hobbies, and all the other things in my personal life that I would rather be doing than working.

As it is, I can't access my work email from anywhere but work, I don't have a crackberry, and I have regular work hours (I do have flextime, but it is a 40-hour workweek.) Fed position with secure data issues, and I am not a high enough grade to be able to check the email or use the crackberry.

Even though I don't have much of a commute, I can understand how it is a big concern for others.

For myself, there is something about keeping work life and home life totally separate that is very appealing.

Posted by: being honest | May 13, 2008 12:06 PM

to being honest: kudos to you for knowing your own limitations - I know I could not work from home 5 days per week - too isolating. But 1 day per week would allow me to concentrate on projects that require more detailed attention - producing documentation for example.

foamgnome: the big consulting firms (such as dotted's example of IBM) have no assigned desk space - that's where you start to save money. An office that 200 consultants are nominally "based" out of may have half as many desks (I don't know exact formula). Frankly that would drive me nuts... but that's why I switched to gov't work.

Posted by: Product of a Working Mother | May 13, 2008 12:34 PM

Honestly, I do not think telecommuting will be broadly thought of as a feasible idea until management shifts to a younger generation.

In my experience those people in the position to make decisions about it are also of the older generation that is, on the whole, less computer savvy and centered. They do not understand how people can work from home, and they are of the generation that if you can't physically see your employees they are not working.

An example of this, one of my managers said I don't understand how you can "work from home" since you desktop is only on your work computer. I tried to explain VPN to her and how you can access the same programs from home using it. It really did not work, she just could not grasp the concept. She thinks "working from home" is people sitting at home checking their email and calling it working.

Posted by: kallieh | May 13, 2008 12:55 PM

I'm a fed. At our office, we can't telecommute Mon of Fri, for fear people will be working from a location that's not home, and Tues and Thurs we have meetings. That leaves Wed, but they can't have everyone gone on Wed. Bottom line, no one telecommutes. Brilliant.

Posted by: atb | May 13, 2008 12:57 PM

Can you guys use Sametime or aim to stay connected? Or use wikis to group develop stuff. I mean honestly, it is so easy to stay connected and not even use a phone. Broadband and software makes it all work.

Posted by: dotted | May 13, 2008 1:03 PM

dotted's reply to foamgnome is right on. You save money by not having people assigned to specific offices/desks. So if everybody telecommutes one day a week, and you spread them evenly over the week, then you only need 80% as much room.

That requires a lot to make work: no paper to store/retrieve (everything's electronic); a flexible phone system (your number has to ring at whatever desk you're occupying); and so on. But a number of companies work that way. It can be done. Yes, it's "weird" to the traditionalists, but it can be done.

atb - the rules about Monday/Friday show the thinking that stifles this. What, specifically, is wrong with someone working from home who is not actually "at home"? Either the person is working or not. The inference I drew from your rules is that people will use "telecommuting" as an excuse for three-day weekends/vacations. If they cheat, they cheat; fire them or prohibit them from telecommuting.

But the last two employers I've had mostly cared that my work was done; they didn't care where I was when I was doing it. Work done? Check. Customer happy? Check. Who cares if you're sitting on the beach or on your back deck?

Posted by: ArmyBrat | May 13, 2008 1:07 PM

I can see it working if there is a 100% telecommuter or even 50%. Then I see real cost savings. No assigned desks most be a riot. I can't imagine that.

I actually have my own office and I love it. I couldn't even see working in the cubicle enviroment. Personally I would not mind telecommuting two days a week. But I think I like coming into the office at least a few days a week and it is certainly easier to have meetings in person. We do some teleconferencing with consultants and it is always much harder then face to face.

But if they could get some staff to do even 50% telecommuting, I could see some real savings. But I think management in a lot of places are just resistant to change.

Posted by: foamgnome | May 13, 2008 1:08 PM

ArmyBrat - yep. Don't forget the next question: profits up? check. check and double check.

Posted by: dotted | May 13, 2008 1:14 PM

I am an IBMer and there are some great benefits to be a mobile worker aka those without assigned office space. And BELIEVE me IBM has saved millions over the last 10 years since they started pushing their workforce to be mobile. Worldwide more than 45% of the workers are mobile out of the 350,000.

However being a mobile worker means you do need to have seperate office space in your home. You are not babysitting your children. You are available via SameTime during your normal business hours (mostly 8 - 5) AND at night when your manager or client needs something done. You also provide your own high speed internet connection - and you will need the fastest available in order to send and recieve files. You also will need to provide your own landline, printer, paper, and any other office supplies you need. These are not provided by the company.

So while they do save millions of dollars in rent, utilities, and support staff there are some costs that the employee must cover. And yes with a good accountant and proper records it is all tax deductible.

Posted by: The otherside | May 13, 2008 1:26 PM

otherside: IBM reimburses for broadband, landline, supplies. Your mobile...maybe...it depends on your job need for mobile. One has to be very very careful one doesn't try to deduct from taxes that which IBM reimburses. I've found deducting the office isn't worth it at all anymore. Accountant agrees. ymmv.

Posted by: dotted | May 13, 2008 1:43 PM

Sadly, my job really does have to be done on-site. It's not a negotiable thing given the nature of the work.

But on the positive side of the ledger, I will have a commuting buddy in just a few weeks. Just waiting for the coumidin levels to stabilize and the physician to give the "Go back to work" letter.

Finally, someone to share the costs of the gas and argue over the choice of radio station.

Posted by: Maryland mother | May 13, 2008 1:51 PM

"The inference I drew from your rules is that people will use "telecommuting" as an excuse for three-day weekends/vacations. If they cheat, they cheat; fire them or prohibit them from telecommuting."

AB -- couldn't agree more. But that probably also explains why telecommuting hasn't really caught on in the federal government: because it's so freaking impossible to fire nonperformers. And when you can't get rid of the folks who abuse the program, you end up getting rid of the program to prevent the abuse. Sigh.

Posted by: Laura | May 13, 2008 2:00 PM

"...the argument "if we can't do it for all, won't do it for any" will hold sway in a lot of places for a long time, I'm afraid."

You are right. I work at the headquarters of a large insurance company. Our building is closed to the public, yet we are still required to wear professional dress (suits and ties for men, etc.). One of the big reasons the powers that be like to give for the antiquated dress code is that the employees in our field offices that DO meet with the public have to dress professionally.

This despite the fact that all other businesses in our area have switched to business casual dress, and about 90% of our employees work at headquarters.

Posted by: CJB | May 13, 2008 2:01 PM

(sniff, sniff!)

Posted by: Songster | May 13, 2008 2:08 PM

I really don't understand why you object to this concept so vehemently. Most civilized countries governments mandate paid parental leave.

Posted by: not an american | May 13, 2008 9:53 AM

And people in those countries pay significantly more in taxes than we do in the U.S.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 13, 2008 2:12 PM

otherside: IBM reimburses for broadband, landline, supplies. Your mobile...maybe...it depends on your job need for mobile. One has to be very very careful one doesn't try to deduct from taxes that which IBM reimburses. I've found deducting the office isn't worth it at all anymore. Accountant agrees. ymmv.

Posted by: dotted | May 13, 2008 1:43 PM


Actually they don't in GBS. There are some employees that are classed as work at home employees. Those are few and far between positions and recieve reimbursement. The rest of us are classed as mobile workers and we do not recieve reimbursement for any of the products I mentioned.

We were recieving reimbursement for our DSL up until this year when that was taken away.

Posted by: The otherside | May 13, 2008 2:16 PM

Forgot to address the tax thing. The reason my accountant deducts those expenses is because they are non-reimbursable by IBM.

Posted by: The otherside | May 13, 2008 2:18 PM

"How does telecommuting one day a week save on office space. You would still need a desk for each employee for at least the other 4 days of the work week."

Not always. My best friend works largely from home, sometimes on the road. On the rare occasion when she does work at the office, she sits in a small pool of cubicles meant for similarly situated employees. Having a place to sit doesn't mean you need your own desk, desktop computer, name placard on the wall, and pictures of your kids and dog. Her travel situation doesn't always allow her to be "green," but her employer does save space, because there are far fewer cubicles than employees who are allowed to use them.

Posted by: Mona | May 13, 2008 2:25 PM

the Otherside - having been through this when I worked for the Toronto folks for three years, you can deduct but you have to be careful.

The general rule is that any broadband, mobile phone, pager, landline, printer supplies, etc. your employer requires you to have at home but doesn't reimburse you for are deductible as unreimbursed business expenses. Careful records and a good accountant mean you're okay.

HOWEVER - if you get audited, you may have to demonstrate how much of the use of those items was really for business and how much was actually personal use. My accountant always warned me it could get dicey. For example, my employer required a broadband connection. Verizon Fios offers a series of packages - 5mbps down, 2 mbps up; 15 mbps down, 2 up; etc. Suppose I deducted the 15 mbps package, but in addition to business use, it's used for games, downloading videos from iTunes, etc. How much of the cost of that connection should really be deductible as a business expense? Did the employer really require the 15 mbps package, or would 5 mbps have been good enough? What was the employer willing to put in writing about requirements?

The home office deduction was even hairier, because you have to document how much time that "office" is really used for work, and how much time it's used by the kids for homework or playing, or by DW or I for filing, doing Quicken, or other personal use? My accountant's advice was that, unless you have a space in the house that's exclusively dedicated to telework and isn't used for any other purpose (you have another computer and another network connection) don't bother with the home office deduction because you're going to get nailed.

YMMV, of course. But if you're going to do that, always make sure have (or are!) a good tax accountant.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | May 13, 2008 2:44 PM

Thanks for the info ArmyBrat.

I'm pretty comfortable with my tax decisions. I've been going to a tax professional that has worked with consulting folks for years and most of my team memebers have been with him forever. Again as I've mentioned before all the expenses we are deducting are not reimbursed by IBM and are for business purposes. Its not as much of a hassle to keep track of as some may think.

Posted by: The otherside | May 13, 2008 2:49 PM

I have heard the taxes argument and it is true. But the taxes are paid for the public good so you are sort of paying yourself or your children or if you don't have children then maybe your siblings do, or if you have neither and you are a complete orphan than you are paying your own society to be pleasant to live in. No?

Posted by: not an american | May 13, 2008 2:52 PM

Thanks for the song, Songster. It pulled at my heart!

Posted by: Anonymous | May 13, 2008 3:19 PM

Songster needs more attention today, eh?

Posted by: dotted | May 13, 2008 3:26 PM

nNobody picked on undress4success.com? I am like totally surprised nobody jumped on this.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 13, 2008 3:31 PM

"Nobody picked on undress4success.com? I am like totally surprised nobody jumped on this."

Despite Brian's description of it, I suspect that a number of people didn't go there because they thought it might qualify as NSFW. ("Not Safe for Work") Don't want to be popping up in your company's URL filters too often, you know. :-)

Posted by: Anonymous | May 13, 2008 3:42 PM

Yes, I do like to hear an appreciative word or two. I do like to hear if something I have written touches a person's heart or funny bone!

Posted by: Songster | May 13, 2008 4:09 PM

We heart the Songster!

Long may the Songster reign!

Posted by: Anonymous | May 13, 2008 5:06 PM

However being a mobile worker means you do need to have seperate office space in your home. You are not babysitting your children. You are available via SameTime during your normal business hours (mostly 8 - 5) AND at night when your manager or client needs something done. You also provide your own high speed internet connection - and you will need the fastest available in order to send and recieve files. You also will need to provide your own landline, printer, paper, and any other office supplies you need. These are not provided by the company.

So while they do save millions of dollars in rent, utilities, and support staff there are some costs that the employee must cover. And yes with a good accountant and proper records it is all tax deductible.

Posted by: The otherside | May 13, 2008 1:26 PM

I am an IMBer as well and I get my supplies paid for by IBM. Just order them off BOND.

IBM has telecommuting down to a science.

I love the flexibility working from home when I am not traveling on a sales call, but I do miss the social aspect of the office.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 13, 2008 6:31 PM

Last time I checked with the labor department, we were becoming more and more of a service economy. Most of those jobs can't be done remotely. So hats off to those of you have the freedom to telecommute and the discipline to do so successfully. I'll stick to my face-to-face career. I can point to the fruits of my labors, and I can compartmentalize work and home. I suspect that those of us who do so are more satisfied than you.

Posted by: babsy1 | May 13, 2008 9:13 PM

well, babsy1, sorry to disagree, but I am quite sure I am satisfied. So sorry, but you appear to not be. And I can point to many fruits of my labors. You might even be using them right now.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 13, 2008 10:23 PM

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