Environmental & Other Considerations of Telecommuting

When I tell my boss I’m working from home I usually role out of bed at 10:30 or so, head straight for the local Ben & Jerry’s ice cream shop, go home, check my email, and return to bed before waking up one more time after 3:00 to take my second daily glance at Outlook. Actually, this isn’t accurate. My work-at-home reality is quite the opposite. I put in just as many hours working at home as in the office, I am able to concentrate more, and I am a much happier employee because of that one day a week I am able to type in my jammies. Some argue that working at home is more efficient, some say less, and others say it depends. For me it rarely depends—I complete as much if not more work at home than I do in the office. I am not a role model—I’m simply stating my perception of my personal productivity when working at home.

Working from home has implications for the planet and working world at large. The environmental benefits are straightforward—if a worker works from home he or she saves the petroleum that would otherwise be required for travel to the office. This reduces wear and tear on both the worker’s vehicle and the roads and eliminates emissions and carbon pollution.

Telecommuting can also save other resources. The telecommuter and the typical working professional alike, likely have home access to a fully functional workplace that includes the essentials for conducting all tasks required of the average work day. In other words most working professionals have electricity, a telephone, Internet access and other work-related necessities like a sink and toilet.

Requiring that a worker travels to an office environment requires that the above resources be provisioned, which incurs costs, consumes resources, and requires ongoing maintenance. Thus reducing the time that workers spend in the office while inversely increasing telecommuting time can save a company money, resources, and labor. This is not an all-or-nothing scenario, and the benefits of telecommuting can be realized even if an employee works from home for only part of the week, detailed in the following scenarios.

Scenario

Resource Requirements

1. All 100 employees are required to work in office Firm must have 100 workstations at all times
2. Employees encouraged to work remotely 1 day weekly Firm must have roughly 80 workstations
3. Employees encouraged to work remotely 2 days weekly Firm must have roughly 67 workstations
4. Firm does not have an office Burden shifted entirely to all 100 employees

Work efficiency aside, a company’s leadership team can reduce overhead expenses by implementing scenarios 2 through 4 above. Option 4 can be nixed because it overburdens employees, which leaves scenarios 2 and 3 (or something similarly moderate). While it might require the coordination of staff schedules and advanced planning for the number of workstations needed, the moderate scenario allows for flexibility in granting different employees varied amounts of offsite time.

There are additional factors to consider during the implementation of a telecommuting program, and it might not work for all companies or sectors. There is always the risk that the telecommuter slacks, is unresponsive, and slows work flow. The capacity for supervision is reduced, spontaneous collaboration might not occur as frequently, and certain projects might not be completed as efficiently with colleagues working in different locations. The management of these and other risks should be considered during the creation of any telecommuting policy, but so should the benefits. The financial, environmental, and social advantages of properly implemented telecommuting policies can create happier employees, more productive and welcoming work environments, and in the end, better results. As the backbone of any company, employees must be nurtured, or they will bend like scoliosis. If flexible telecommuting policies can keep employees happy and companies strong then such policies should be implemented.

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About Emerging Environments

Thoughts about environmental policy, sustainability, cancer, and more.
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One Response to Environmental & Other Considerations of Telecommuting

  1. wagarob says:

    I like your general point, though I feel you perhaps overly downplay the potential detriment of a lack of oversight, team-work, and efficiency though the joint use of pooled resources (100 ppl using the same lights, resources/facilities, etc. vs. 100 ppl required to provide their own). Were we to limit this detriment (at least for team-work and oversight) through the introduction of open audio-video lines on all “at-home” workstations, I imagine that might tend to diminish the desirability of being out of the office in the first place. It’ll certainly be interesting to see how businesses evolve as we continue down the road of omni-present tech.

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