Has the time come for telecommuting?

I’ve posted on this subject before, but I’m feeling lazy right now and don’t feel like looking them up. Anyway, they’d probably be closed as zombie threads.

With gas prices over $3/gallon, it’s becoming more expensive for people to drive to work. With housing prices continuing to rise (a friend told me that one-bedroom apartments in L.A. are like $1,200/month and up) people may be moving farther away from the office. The result is (or would be, if I’m right) that commuting will cost even more. And sitting in traffic for longer periods than we already have would seem to lower one’s quality of life (let alone the pollutants from exhausts and leaky mechanical parts, and the contribution to Global Warming).

Is it time for a National Telecommuting Act? I feel that it would benefit workers (including those whose jobs are not suited to telecommuting), businesses, society at large, the various levels of governments, the economy, and the environment.

What exactly would the National Telecommuting Act entail?

Basically, it would offer incentives to corporations that are suited for telecommuting to make serious efforts to provide the option to their employees. Many companies pay lip service to telecommuting, but there is still a mindset that some managers have that employees must all be in one place. The larger the percentage of workers who are allowed to telecommute, the larger the incentive. It would be funded through taxes. However the corporations can use the incentive funds to increase their business and hire more workers. More workers means that more people will be paying taxes. Workers will have more money in their pockets that would otherwise be spent on gasoline and car mantenance, and they can live in cheaper housing farther away from the office and thus have even more disposable income. Since Americans tend to save less than workers in some other countries, I think it’s likely that they will spend their extra funds, which would stimulate the economy and provide additional taxes through purchases.

Most jobs that I can think of require the person present at the job site, so you can physicaly do stuff, and interactwith people. I don’t see something like this benefiting most workers. Encouraging company car pools I see being of more use. People are also used to jumping in a vehical and going to the store for one item. Break people of that habit and you do more for energy savings I think.

This was starting to take hold in the IT industry as the decade turned, but the companies realized that if you’re going to have someone do everything over a telecommunications line, you might as well pay for someone cheap overseas rather than hire an expensive American worker.

So a Telecommuter incentive would be tax-fed subsidies to businesses for increasing outsourcing.

Certainly most jobs are not suited to telecommuting. (I’m assuming that most jobs are in manufacturing or service.) But there are a significant number of jobs that are. For example, programming and data processing.

In a previous job we received boxes and boxes of paper output every day. We had to be at one place to receive our reports, right? I had my output turned off, and I demonstrated that I could do my job by looking at them online. Then I had the hardcopies turned off for my team. They were able to do their jobs. Finally the paper was shut off for the whole department. Again it was shown that we didn’t need paper. Our mainframe was (and is) in Texas. We communicated with our customers by email and telephone. Interdepartment requests were by email. All conference rooms were equipped with conference phones, and some had computer video. So there was really no need to be gathered together in one place. The single advantage I could see, as you touched on, was ‘synergy’ – solving problems around the water cooler, as it were.

Aside from that, everything could be accomplished with a telephone and a computer. It doesn’t matter the worker’s physical location. And many functions are already ‘telecommuted’ by corporations; only we call it ‘outsourcing’.

Non-telecommuting workers will still benefit. If fewer people are on the roads, those that drive will have shorter commuting times resulting in less pollution, lower fuel bills, and more time to spend on living.

I’m not saying that telecommuting is a Miracle Cure; but I think that a coherent national policy would be an important part of a plan that includes ridesharing, mass transit, more efficient vehicles, etc.

My my current job and my last job both entailed 45 minutes to an hour commute, so I’m all for telecommuting, at least once or twice a week. And I’m a programmer, so that lends itself to telecommuting pretty well.

But there’s serious drawbacks. Issues come up sometimes where we all need to be together to draw stuff on the board and look at papers together. Yes, this can be done remotely via already-available tools, but it’s simply not as efficient as being together.

Plus, I do like keeping work and home separate. When I’m in my home, I like to relax and play, not work.

I’m only a few weeks into my current job, but once I’m more comfortable in it I’m going to try and see if I can telecommute once or twice week, even with the drawbacks, and see how it works out.

I was told it didn’t mater when I did my job so long as I did it. They eventualy said I had to work certain hours, because things occured at work and they wanted my ass available on the spot, at that moment. They had a couple jobs where they tried the you don’t have to be at work bit, and they decided the same for them as they did with me.

At my company, lots of people telecommute. I usually go in, but I’m set up to do it, which came in real handy when my wife had eye operations, and I could both work and take care of her.

Most of the meetings I go to these days don’t involve a conference room. We trade presentations, and that works fine. People in the meetings are scattered throughout the world and the US. I know some people who moved inside the company, but who didn’t have to move their homes, which saved them a lot of aggravation and saved the company a lot of money. This is engineering stuff, not even programming.

A lot of our buildings are set up for flex offices, where you reserve an office for a week, and just move there. If you’re not in, no office - which saves on real estate costs. We use thin clients, so we can get our exact session anywhere in the world.

I had someone work for me who was in Boston while I was in the Bay Area. I collaborated with him more than some people down the hall - we shared two patents and a couple of papers.

I’m all for telecommuting incentives to save energy. It does work - but it takes some degree of trust.

I’d love to be able to telecommute one or two days a week. That way I’d save on driving a bit, but still usually be in the office to interact with co-workers.

But my company is dead set against it.

On the other hand, if the telecommuting arrangement was only one or two days a week, then it would be a tacit admission that you still do need to be onsite at least some of the time. Outsourcing is a disturbing trend, but not every job can be outsourced.

I like telecommuting as a rule, sure. But two examples from my life:

  1. Lady Chance runs a software development department for a large defense contractor. She works from home (in rural Ohio) and not one single person in her department is on site. Her developers are scattered around the country. She does have some people near to the clients so they can run in if there’s something that requires on site work.

  2. I run a small publishing firm right now (for the next week. I may flip it and start another). I had an exec who telecommuted from his house about 4 hours away. He just never accomplished anything. I think he intended to but it just didn’t work out.

So I think it’s a good thing but it’s not for everyone. It does require more discipline than going to an office everyday does.

My partner works for IBM. They have been a leader in teleecommuting. I could have done my last three jobs from home, with only going into the office rarely. I think we will see more telecommuting as some of the older workers retire. Yes, I know it is a stereotype that older workers are less likely to adapt to new technology. However, in my experience, this has been true.

I telecommute and there is no reason to go into the office for what I do. I’m home 100% of the time. I miss the social aspects of working in an office (it was actually harder to adjust to than I had thought). I worked with people who had 100 mi. + commutes, so they loved being able to work from home. I used to live near my office, so I would go in 2-3 days a week. Now my office is in another state, so it isn’t even an option for me.

I have a pre-designated start and stop time, and my job is an “immediate action” kind of position, so when I’m working, I’m working. No catching up on bills, housework, or anything like that. I have time to toss a load of clothes into the washer or dryer, and that’s about it. I play StraightDope on a separate computer (so I can monitor the workflow as it comes into my work computer). I don’t even have the free time to prepare dinner so I can eat immediately when my work day is over.

I think most people work harder when they work from home than they do when they’re in the office. Sort of a subliminal need to prove that you’re not screwing around.

My company sub contracts to one of the biggest firms in England and a lot of them telecommute a few days a week. And by telecommute I mean they don’t do any work. Everyone works from home on Fridays. It’s a huge joke, but they still make the big bucks so I guess it’s no big deal.

I’d quite like it as I do a lot of data entry but there are too many aspects of my job that require a proper office.

If all the benefits are as you describe (and I tend to agree with you on those), why do you need the government to step in? Isn’t government interference bad enough without businessmen being told how to run their business?

I’m all for alternative work methods, I just don’t feel the government should have anything to do with it.

Yes it’s time. Companies that offer telecommuting solutions will attract good employees and should hold them to high standards of job performance.

One of my reasons for leaving my current employer (Verizon) is their recent pullback on telecommuting. There are quite a lot of management people in this company who do not have direct reports and their managers are in different states. My clients are scattered all over the eastern seaboard. Our job performance is results-based. If my clients are happy, I am doing my job. If projects are completed on time and under budget, the PM’s are doing their job. If interstate data lines for customers are designed and and submitted to the field crews on time, the systems engineers are doing their job.

But for some reason we have to sit in a refrigerated office all day otherwise we’re “not working”. Most of our buildings are empty since the advent of high capacity switches that replaced mechanical relays. The amount of money that goes into heating and cooling these enormous building must be huge. In my previous office there were perhaps six of us but the entire floor was kept hot in the winter and chilled in the summer, all day and all night long.

The worts part is, we sell telecommuting solutions to our customers but don’t let our own people take advantage of them.

My dad has been telecommuting for several years now. Someone mentioned that it works best for jobs like programming, which is what he does. When he needs to communicate with others in his company (which is often) he uses email, IM, or telephone. The people he works with are mostly in the Netherlands and Ireland, so he has to wake up early to talk to them in real time, and then gets the most work done “overnight” (from their point of view). Presumably, this would be less of an issue for US-based companies, but it works quite well for him.

Is telecommuting a good idea? Yeah, if you can be just as efficient at home, why waste time and money on office space and gasoline? Should the government encourage it? I don’t know. That’s a tougher question. It kind of seems like all we have to do is TELL the companies and they’ll want to do it themselves. At least some of them.

Brainiac4 and I both telecommute at least occationally. I do officially one day a week, and often two. He does as his schedule permits.

For me, my coworkers are scattered across three continients…the sun never sets on the job. I can be on the phone with Europe at 8:00 (when my boss in California is still getting up) and with China at 8:00pm. I’m not taking both those calls in the office. Once you move to needing to take calls at home, you begin to realize you don’t need to be in the office.

But I like to go in - I need a desk. It can be hard to focus at home.