[Note: This was originally posted on a blog for government leaders, March 16, 2009. Since then, the Federal government has enacted a law enabling its employees to officially use telework.]
Telework is getting a fresh look because the factors that make telecommuting attractive are converging from various directions.
Telework is a green strategy in both meanings of the word: (1) saving money and (2) doing things that will help reduce greenhouse gases and sustain the environment.
First, in the current very tight — even dire — financial circumstances of local and state governments, public employees are being asked to accept pay-less workdays, no salary increases and other budget cutting measures. Telecommuting is one way to help employees to reduce their costs of getting to work that will not add anything to your budget.
Telecommuting also helps save money by reducing your costs for operating your buildings. While statistics on this subject are not yet generally available, I can draw upon the experience of Cisco. Converting the employees in one building in San Jose to a less office-oriented work pattern resulted in reduced building costs — a 40% reduction in space per employee and 55% less money spent on IT infrastructure and cabling. And the employees were happier and more productive.
Second, there is also an increasing emphasis in governments not only on developing new policies to sustain the environment, but also to set an example by operating in a greener way. Telecommuting helps reduce greenhouses gases by getting vehicles off the roads, especially during rush hour. (And that again reduces local government costs by reducing highway maintenance.)
Sun Microsystems [now part of Oracle] has had a telework program for 10 years with more than half of its workforce at home or in flexible work spaces. The company found that office equipment consumed twice as much energy in a Sun office as in a home office — 130 watts per hour versus 64. But that was not the greatest factor in greenhouse gas reductions. Employees who eliminated the commute to a Sun office also slashed their carbon footprints, with commuting accounting for more than 98% of each employee’s work-related carbon footprint; running office equipment made up less than 1.7% of a person’s total work-related carbon emissions.Of course, you will want to tally up the benefits of telecommuting for your particular area.
Fortunately, a pair of dedicated telework experts have made that easy for you by creating a telework calculator at http://undress4success.com/research/telework-savings-calculator/. (While you are there, you might want to take a look at the Undress4Success.com home page for a variety of other telecommuting resources.)
The Telework Calculator has data for every city, county, region, Congressional District, and State, so you can see the results just for your area. There are a couple of dozen metrics, including savings to your government and your employees, as well as the reduction in greenhouse gases. You can even play with the assumptions behind it, such as what percentage of workers could easily switch to telecommuting. Their estimate may be on the high side.Much of the work that government does is especially suitable for telework.
The Federal government, which has been developing its telework expertise for years, has found that 52% of its employees are eligible for telecommuting. You can find more Federal information at http://www.telework.gov and from the Federal-private sector partnership, the Telework Exchange at http://www.teleworkexchange.com (which also has its own telework calculator).
At the State level, Arizona has led with telework in the Phoenix area. See http://www.teleworkarizona.com for more information. The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance has used this approach to create what is in many ways a virtual, but much more responsive, agency.
Bringing this discussion back to your policy making role, you can use the Telework Calculator to measure the value of telecommuting in your area if every public and private entity ran a telecommuting program. Last week the folks behind the Telework Calculator released a study in which they added up the numbers and suggested that, if telework really took off, “working from home could save United States consumers $228 billion, add $260 billion to companies’ bottom line.”
© 2011 Norman Jacknis
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