Telecommuting’s Win-Win-Win-Win..Etc.

It’s a subject near and dear to my heart: as a freelance writer, the ability to set my own hours, work from home (or wherever I want) and drop everything to go for a walk or take a personal call. This is a level of freedom I am loathe to give up — even for a much higher paycheck.

As it turns out, telecommuting (aka telework, or the newly coined “workshifting”) is also a poster child for the Triple Bottom Line.

As a new white paper (PDF) from the Telework Research Network (TRN) reports, workshifting is good for People: 70 percent of workers would like to be able to work from home at least some of the time.

It’s good for the Planet, because those homeworkers are not driving to work or burning energy when they are there.

And finally, it’s good for Profits, because those liberated workers tend to be harder working and more productive (and you don’t have to pay for real estate to sit them at desks).

The TRN paper breaks down savings and cost-benefits of telecommuting based on their Telework Savings Calculator, which is derived from various studies of the benefits of telework, and uses data from public and private sources. It defines “workshifters” as employees who work half the time from home, which is “roughly the average for those who currently do,” according to the paper.

The authors come up with a lot of figures for how much firms and the US economy would save if workshifting was more popular. Employers can expect a 27 percent increase in productivity on telecommuting days, according to the paper — worth $32,136 per employee, per year. Employee retention also goes up for telecommuters, and absenteeism goes down.

Employees can save thousands on gas, and of course there is the non-quantifiable benefit of greeting your kids when they come home from school. Or writing up those TPS reports in the woods (see photo).

As the paper notes, the federal government has been pushing telecommuting for a while, and in March the White House hosted a conference on workplace flexibility. The success of federal efforts at increasing telecommuting vary, but at the US Patent and Trademark Office, a whopping 70 percent of staff work from home at least part of the time.

A sea of positives

The white paper was conducted by TRN, a small work-from-home consultancy, with financial assistance from Citrix, a company that makes software enabling telecommuting, and as such its results should be taken with a grain of salt.

But that doesn’t really matter all that much, since most of the paper’s data is from more rigorous studies of telecommuting – and there they have a lot of material to work with, nearly all of which seems to come to the same conclusion: it’s great.

The most recent scientific study of the benefits of flexible work was published in the Journal of Family Psychology last month. That study of 24,000 IBM employees was conducted by a team at Brigham and Young University (which, admittedly, has its own more subtle objectivity problems).

The study found that those workers who had flexible schedules and were able to telecommute were able to work 19 hours longer than those who did not before experience work-family tensions.

One study, by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, did find a negative result from telecommuting: workers left in the office became resentful of their colleagues who could work from home.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.

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