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A commute that involves strolling down the hall to your home office, working in your comfiest sweats, and avoiding traffic jams and rush our driving are enticing advantages of telecommuting. And get this: working at home just one day a week instead of driving an average 23-mile commute, saves $1,000 in gasoline costs annually and prevents 6,000 pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere.[1]

How to approach telecommuting

Also known as a flexplace or telework program, telecommuting is the process by which employees use computers and other telecommunications equipment to conduct office work and interface with colleagues from home or a remote site. Staff can spend all or part of their time doing this kind of work.

If you're your own boss, whether or not you telecommute will depend on your own preferences. But those who work for a business other than their own will likely have to get permission to work off-site. Some companies approach telecommuting informally on a case-by-case basis while a growing number of corporations have formal telecommuting policies. Research shows that people working for firms with 25 to 250 employees are less likely to telecommute than those working in larger or smaller companies.[2] Regardless of the number of people in your company, if you're interested in this eco-friendly approach, here are some tips:

  • Will telecommuting work for you?: Jobs dealing with sensitive information, requiring expensive or specialized equipment, constant teamwork, or hands-on collaboration and supervision may not be suitable for telecommuting. However, those positions requiring less interaction and only a phone, computer, printer, and fax machine (such as positions involving writing, programming, or sales) may be perfect matches for telecommuting.
  • Make your case. If your company doesn't have a set telecommuting policy and you think your position would lend itself to working from home, gather the facts before you make your pitch. Outline benefits of telecommuting including increased productivity, reduced absenteeism, higher morale, and greater job satisfaction. Also anticipate road blocks and how you can counter them. Commuter Challenge has lots of helpful information including common objections (with answers), plus a sample memo to present to your boss.
  • Gear up. To work from home you'll generally need a computer with high-speed Internet access (including intranet system access to your company’s data and files), a telephone line (including voicemail), teleconferencing tools (such as a webcam, microphone, speakers, messaging programs, etc.), and some furniture. Discuss what you might need with your employer so that you can easily communicate with each other on a day to day basis.
  • Start small. For most people, telecommuting doesn't mean working Monday through Friday year round at home. One or two days a week is the norm and if your boss wants to start slow, suggest one or two days a month to test the new arrangement.

Find it! Tools for telecommuting

Get equipped for telecommuting with home office products that will further enhance the greenness of your stay-at-home work-a-day.

Opting for telecommuting helps you go green because...

  • It reduces the number of cars on the road—and carbon dioxide emissions—as more employees stay home.
  • Fewer cars translates to less traffic congestion.
  • When employees work from home, there's less need to expand and improve new and existing buildings and infrastructure to accommodate a growing workforce (which requires resource-intensive new materials).

While telecommuting isn't anything brand new, it's green and it's growing. The number of employed people who worked at home anywhere from one day a year to full time, increasing from 41.3 million in 2003 to 44.4 million people in 2004.[3] And although the terms telework and telecommute are often used interchangeably there's a subtle eco-difference. Teleworking means using telecommunications to work anyplace—a branch office, your car, the airport, a client's office. Telecommuters use telecommunications so they don't have to commute to work; the best choice for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and traffic-laden roads.

The longer the commute the bigger the savings all around. Hewlett-Packard estimates that its telework program, which currently consists of 13,000 employees working exclusively from home, saved 2.5 million round-trip commutes, 65 million miles of road travel, and 28,000 tons of CO2 emissions in 2006.[4]

When staff work from home, less floor space is needed for offices, thus reducing real estate costs (up to 60 percent, according to Telework America), as well as water, electricity, heating, and cooling costs. Work space can be shared by those telecommuting part-time or using other alternate work schedules. One work group at the State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) uses telework and staggered schedules so that five people share a space designed for two. WSDOT's main building in Olympia was constructed for 450 to 500 people and currently accommodates 650.[5]

Net benefits to the environment from telecommuting can be undercut somewhat by teleworkers running errands by car that they could have combined with their commute, people moving further away from their job (increasing miles driven) because they only commute part-time, and the additional energy used in telecommuters' homes to heat, cool, and run electronic equipment. Still, the advantages to the earth are clear. In a study of telecommuting programs in Denver, Washington, DC, Houston, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia, researchers found that if only one quarter of 1 percent of the workforce in those cities worked from home one or two days a week, the release of 25 tons of volatile organic compounds would be averted annually.[6]

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