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Will Telecommuting Save the Planet?

Kim Hart

Using electronic devices to telecommute saves enough energy to power 1 million U.S. households for a year, according to a study released today by the Consumer Electronics Association.

The study, which was commissioned by the CEA and conducted by TIAX LLC of Cambridge, Mass., found that "just one day of telecommuting saves the equivalent of up to 12 hours of an average household's electricity use."

The country has about 3.9 million telecommuters, which collectively save about 840 million gallons of gas and 14 million tons of carbon dioxide emission. That's equal to taking 2 million vehicles off the road each year, the study said.

A lot of technology companies and groups have been promoting the benefits of working remotely, such as relieving the strain on highways and electricity grids. Of course, telecommuting also means that workers would need more gadgets, higher-powered computers and speedy Internet access, which would all benefit technology companies.

Some corporations have embraced telecommuting, while others fear it could adversely affect employee productivity. Do any telecommuters out there have thoughts about the effectiveness of working remotely? Do you goof off all day, or actually get more work done?

By Kim Hart  |  September 19, 2007; 10:07 AM ET  | Category:  Kim Hart
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Takes a certain type of person to thrive in the work at home environment. Those people with children at home or those that need to be told what to do don't do well. I worked from home for almost 10 years and loved it. But I don't much like the office bs politics and such as that so it was perfect for me. My productivity was the highest in my dept. And believe me casual Friday was very casual :)

Posted by: Dan | September 19, 2007 11:40 AM

Telecomuting is great. Fewer distractions, incentive to make the best use of my time, no need to commute. It saves me money on gas, I can listen to the radio while I work if I choose, and it saves my employer money as well.

I can see how some people might not be able to work from home because they are distracted, but for me, it is great.

Posted by: David S | September 19, 2007 11:44 AM

I've just started back in an office environment after two years of telecommuting -- and I'm having a hard time. What I didn't miss while working from a home office: a hellish drive to work, people stopping by my office to chat while I was on deadline, office politics, micro-management, rules, rules, rules ... if the set-up is right (ie, the kids still need to go to daycare, you need adequate equipment, etc), the payoff in productivity, effective use of time and focus is tremendous. In short, I achieved a lot more working from home!

Posted by: Joanne | September 20, 2007 9:49 AM

I commute 100 miles each day Monday through Thursday and work a nine-hour day. It is truly a gift to work at home on Fridays.

Although most people in my office get along, corporate politics, personal problems and the like make being in the office difficult. If one lives just a few miles from home, that's okay. But, if one travels 100 miles to get to work on a daily basis, only to put up with BS once one gets there, it makes for a really long day. Listening to audiobooks on my iPod helps, but there is nothing like being at home.

I'm definitely a advocate of working at home if one's job duties can be done remotely. I work in web development, so it's PERFECT!

Posted by: AMT | September 20, 2007 10:07 AM

As a single parent raising two teens, I worked from home for 11 years for a local radio station and it did wonders for my parenting abilities. Not only did I have the luxury of going to all parent meetings, conferences, plays etc. that my children participated in, it also allowed me to volunteer at their school, make sure I was there to pick them up from school, help with homework, etc.

As for my work, I would pace myself. During the times when I knew it would be 80 degrees outside and a great day for the beach, I would work from 5:00a.m. - 12 noon. I'd take the rest of the day off. I also worked weekends for about four to six hours as well. In an office situation, you are consistently being interrupted by colleagues, phone calls, and unnecessary chatter. In a typical day in the office where I currently work, I may spend a total of six hours on "real work." One hour out of the day, I'm out to lunch, the other hour is spent talking to people on the phone, taking breaks, going to "brainstorm" meetings, etc. But it certainly isn't for everyone. Oh, one really BIG thing to keep in mind when working from home...keep the television OFF and set up a real home office away from distractions. I converted my garage to a full blown two station office. That way, I'm really "leaving the house" without really leaving.

Posted by: CRB | September 20, 2007 11:20 AM

Teleworking - whether you are telecommuting to a job, or have a home based business that employees technology, offers many benefits to both those working at home and to society. There is a growing body of helpful literature to assist employers in implementing telecommuting programs effectively.
For society the benefits are many. They include less automotive pollution, fewer rush hour traffic jams, and less pressure on our transportation infrastructure, not to mention a happier, and often more productive workforce.
The federal government has taken the lead in encouaging telecommuting. Congress should consider incentives to encourage more private employers and their employees to consider it as well, and incentives that would encourage the creation of more home-based technology facilitated businesses.
If we do this we will help the environment, reduce infrastructure mainenance costs, and have a happier and more productive workforce.
Bruce Hahn
American Homeowners Grassroots Alliance

Posted by: Bruce Hahn | September 20, 2007 5:58 PM

I perform a broad spectrum of IT responsibilities, and have been working from home for the last seven years. As several other people have noted, an individual working from home must have certain personality characteristics and a serious commitment to work. I started working from home after I relocated several states from the nearest office. I'm an introvert and was surprised when I felt isolated and lonely for the first two weeks. I had no one to bounce ideas off of, and my family rapidly became tired of my enthusiastic pondering of work projects. (or in some cases my lament)

From a career perspective, telecommuting definitely tracked me out of main stream management promotion options. I was still promoted and managed a team of several employees remotely. Implementations became harder, as co-workers approached me when they had a problem with their implementation, rather than during project brain storming. I don't think there is any substitute for being seen, or talking at the water cooler.

From a functionality standpoint, performing my job locally or remotely made little difference. Lights our management, IP KVMs, SSH, Terminal Services, VPNs, and Citrix have made IT systems management a job that even local staff perform from their desk. For sensitive data Citrix can be configured to prevent copy/paste operations, so that data can be well controlled. VoIP further extends the illusion of my actual location.

From a personal perspective I have been able to save money and time. I use one less car. Hence I save on car insurance, gas, car payments, and maintenance costs. Further I almost never eat out, which also saves money. I don't spend any time commuting so when I am done with work I can go straight to tidying up the house.

Because I am not seen, work becomes a 24 x 7 experience. I must be available while other people are in the office. Thus working from home is not as flexible as it may at first appear. Appointments, meetings, vacation, and sick time all need to appear in my Outlook calender or out of office reminders to correctly set the expectations of the people I work with. Further the division between personal time and work time becomes blurred. While I can work on a problem any time I feel inspired, I have also become viewed by management as if I am always available. Whether an office in a different time zone (country) needs my help or something happens on a weekend, I am sick, or on vacation - I am likely to get a call.

I don't think most companies understand the complexities or benefits of telecommuting. First employers need to understand that just because a telecommuter lives close to their office, doesn't mean that the telecommuter should always get the call when there is an issue. Second I believe that companies that shun telecommuting simply don't understand the benefits. Beyond saving energy, the amount of money save during a project can also be quantified. When estimating the cost for a project the loaded hourly rate per employee can be used. The loaded hourly rate of an individual is (at least) an additional 170 percent of their base salary. That is 60% benefits, 25% overhead and 85% administrative costs. Much of that 25% for overhead is assumed by the telecommuter.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 26, 2007 12:55 PM

I've spent the majority of my 14-year marketing career teleworking. I get more done when I work from home, not just because I don't have a commute or get hung up in trivial conversation, but because I don't have a "9 to 5" mentality and fortunate enough to have worked for companies that treat me like the grown up that I am. I know what needs to get done. This often means that I'm sending early morning emails, working a full day and back on the computer once I've given my family dinner. At the same time, I know when it's okay to go to the school and have lunch with my first grader.

More and more people are demanding balance between life and work. Companies who want to attract and retain the best employees should take note and establish policies for workplace flexibility.

As for comments about the importance of "face-time", the issue is becoming irrelevant as video conferencing offers inexpensive and high quality communication and collaboration with the click of a button.

Posted by: Kim Martin | September 27, 2007 10:04 AM

I don't telecommute per se, but I do run my own businesses from home.

A few things I struggled with was when should I work around the kids and when should I work away from home, because sometimes when I'm at home the kids do tend to interrupt a bit too much.

However, it also depends on what type of work I'm doing. I've actually been productive with a kid climbing on my head and another on my back when I was doing less 'brain-intensive' work.

Using David Allen's Getting Things Done system was a huge help in determing when it made sense to work around the kids, when to work at home but not around the kids, and when to work away from home - typically in Cafes with wireless access.

Posted by: Paul Schlegel | October 18, 2007 4:52 PM

Pilot flying a desk currently - driver of a motorcycle - my part to burn up fewer "Al Gore Carbon Credits" -
Anyway, here is how I see it. I can do all my work from home. I manage about 8M in funds via a secure network. I could handle phone calls by simply forwarding calls to my home or cell. Th AF phone system we now have sucks - and the copputer system NMCI sucks even worse. I have to commute in to use crappy slow 1990 IE software, plus 1950's telecom. I can do it all from homw via Comcast Highspeed and make everyone happier.

my .02


Other ways to save the plant here...

Posted by: Naval Officer | October 20, 2007 12:31 AM

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