March 20, 2001 – Cherry Hill New Jersey
With the price of gasoline zooming past $3 a gallon, lots of motorists are trying to think of ways to spend less time behind the wheel.
One significant way to reduce fuel consumption is to reduce the number of trips we make back and forth to work.
The term “telecommute” was coined in 1973, when satellite offices connected to a computer mainframe using the phone lines.
Today, nearly nine in 10 (89 percent) of workers for the federal government telecommute on at least a part-time basis, according to a survey by the Government Business Council.
In Connecticut, where the state funds a nonprofit group that helps businesses set up remote work systems, requests for services are rising along with gas prices.
Governments have a keen interest in minimizing wear and tear on the roads, decreasing congestion and reducing pollutants, as well as saving money. Businesses are getting on track, too.
Since 1995, IBM has sliced nearly $2.9 billion in office space expenses by allowing 40 percent of employees to work from home. That doesn’t include the energy savings IBM realized by having workers essentially heat, cool and illuminate their own offices.
Pitney Bowes, a maker of mail-sorting machinery, has set a goal of having 10-15 percent of its 33,000 employees work from home by 2012 to reduce real estate costs. That translates to at least 3,300 workers flushing their own toilets and vacuuming their own floors.
But businesses are not focused solely on the bottom line. Companies say they want to enhance worker satisfaction, too.
In a recent survey by Accountemps, a job service for financial workers, some companies reported that they are now allowing workers to telecommute to soften the blow of pay freezes and meager raises. They are looking for low-cost or no-cost ways to keep workers happy.
That strategy is easier on Mother Nature, too. If each American worker telecommuted only two days a month, it would reduce oil consumption in the United States by 21 million barrels a year, according to the Energy Information Administration.
It also would put $1.7 billion back into drivers’ pockets, based on an average gas price of $3.07 per gallon. That is money that consumers can pump into buying new clothes, improving their homes and taking vacations.
Clearly, telecommuting doesn’t work for everyone. You can’t work from your spare bedroom if you drive a truck. No one has figured out a way to remotely cook and serve food or change the dressing on a wound.
Working remotely also does not suit every employee. If you don’t have the discipline to keep your nose to the grindstone, you are at risk of being seduced by the siren call of the television, “Guitar Hero,” the afternoon nap. Social creatures will miss the human interaction of the workplace.
But as energy costs rise and technology expands, it is an option worth exploring for both companies and employees.