And I don’t understand why no one sees it.
Later this morning, I’ll have the joy of joining thousands of other drivers on I-17 as we head southbound into Phoenix from points north. It’s a typical Monday morning, so I expect traffic to back up in the typical places — a few miles short of the Loop 101 intersection, down around Glendale Ave, at the “Stack” and “Mini-Stack,” at the Durango Curve, etc. The only thing that’ll make this trip to the airport tolerable for me is that my husband will be with me in the car and we can take advantage of the HOV lanes set up for carpoolers along part of the route. We’ll speed by the thousands of cars with only one driver in each one, getting to our destination in an almost normal amount of time while they take 50% longer to reach theirs.
Obviously, one of the best ways to slow global warming caused by auto emissions is to reduce auto emissions. You can do that by encouraging people to buy more fuel efficient cars, but you’ll always find people who need that status symbol Hummer or other ridiculous SUV in their driveway. (You know, the one with the shiny chrome extras that has never been off pavement?) You can do that by encouraging car pooling by adding HOV lanes to the highways. (You can see how well that works on the commute into Phoenix each day; ask the folks in New Jersey about their HOV lanes.) You can do that by encouraging people to live closer to where they work. (But with people changing jobs more often than most folks change hairstyles, that’s difficult to maintain.)
But you can also do that by implementing a solid plan for telecommuting — making it possible to work at home or in a local telecommuting center instead of making the long commute to park their butts in an office or cubicle for the day.
The Benefits of Telecommuting
The benefits of telecommuting go far beyond keeping single-driver cars off the roads during rush hour. For example:
- Telecommuters spend less time traveling to and from work, so they have more time to spend with their families and friends. This can improve their lives and reduce stress.
- Telecommuters can easily “pop back into the office” to get a bit of extra work done when necessary, especially if that office is in their own home or neighborhood.
- Companies that allow telecommuting can reduce the amount of office space needed because fewer people will be coming to a central office. This can save the company money.
- Companies that allow telecommuting can pay lower salaries because telecommuting employees have reduced commuting costs. (My sister, for example, spends more than $500 per month to get from her New Jersey home to her Broadway and Wall workplace, which is less than 20 miles away.) Savings can be spent on the equipment the employee needs to work away from the central office, such as a computer, Internet connection, and/or telephone line.
Clearly a telecommuting program can help a business and its employees, as well as the environment.
Not Always Possible
Obviously, telecommuting is not possible for all kinds of jobs. A car salesman, for example, can’t meet and greet prospective customers while sitting in his home-based office. Someone who works in manufacturing, where job duties require assembling parts or checking quality needs to be at the factory with tools and materials to get the job done. Policemen, firemen, and ambulance workers must be on the beat or at their base of operations, ready to spring into action when needed.
But there are so many jobs — especially in our predominately service economy — where an employee’s physical presence is not required at a specific workplace. Salespeople can do much of their work on the phone and in front of a computer, with visits to customers and clients to close a deal or provide service. Customer service personnel can work from any location where they have access to a telephone and the Internet. (If we can ship these jobs out to India, why can’t we ship them to people’s homes or telecommuting centers in the suburbs?) Editors, writers, and production people don’t need to come to an office to get things done. As long as they have the tools to work, they can work.
And telecommuting doesn’t need to be an all-or-nothing proposition. An employee can work in a main office two or three days a week and work the remaining days at a home office or telecommuting center. He can share an in-office workspace (cubicle or office) at the workplace with another telecommuter on the opposite schedule. Just taking one day a week off a person’s commute — that’s 20% fewer miles driven — can make a world of difference.
Unfortunately, the mindset of employers and employees makes utilizing a telecommuting program difficult, if not impossible.
Many employers have a complete distrust for their employees. They feel that if they’re not looking over an employee’s shoulders, the employee must be goofing off.
While that might be true of some employees, it isn’t true for everyone. Many employees are responsible individuals who understand that they’re being paid to get a job done. It’s those people who should be given the opportunity to telecommute.
The way I see it, telecommuting is a lot like working freelance, but for one client: your employer. If your employer gives you a job to do and it can be done in the amount of time allotted, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to do it, whether you’re at a centralized workplace or at home with the necessary tools.
If an employee cannot finish a job at the office, he should not be given the opportunity to telecommute. Instead, the employer needs to understand why the employee is falling short of goals. Are the goals unrealistic? Is the employee simply not up to the task? This needs to be established before telecommuting is offered to anyone.
Employers can get peace of mind about telecommuting by granting telecommuting privileges only to proven employees and then monitoring workflow to ensure goals are met.
For example, suppose a support staff member is expected to handle 30 support calls in a day. If given all the right tools at a remote workplace, he should still be able to handle 30 calls. If his output drops to a consistent average of 20 calls a day, this should set up a flag for the employee’s manager. Why has the output dropped? Are there additional tools the employee needs? Or is he wandering away from his desk to chat with neighbors or do errands?
Output will always tell the story and that’s what should be used to evaluate the success of a telecommuting program or a specific employee’s participation in one.
I also think that while in some businesses, telecommuting can be used as a reward for hard-working employees, in other businesses, it can be the way to do business.
After all, why do employers pay employees? To spend a certain number of hours sitting at a certain desk in a certain place? Or to get a job done?
These are my thoughts about something that has been on my mind for years now. My ideas are a bit disjointed and perhaps idealistic. But two of my three primary editors are full time employees for publishers who allow them to telecommute. One editor lives and works more than 1000 miles away from her main office. Both editors are able to get all of their work done in home-based offices. While this is just one example of telecommuting in action — editors in the publishing industry — there can and should be more.
Telecommuting can solve so many problems. Why don’t more employers consider it?