Still a Lot of Slack in Telework

One quarter of the United States workforce could do their jobs from home, according to a report by the National Technology Readiness Survey, but only two percent telecommute full time, and only nine percent do so part time, according to a Reuters story.

P.K. Kannan, professor at the University of Maryland business school, which co-sponsored the survey of 1,015 U.S. adults, conjectured that people still like “face time” at the office as well as the social interaction of the office. Also, he observed, the average 20-minute commute each way really isn’t so bad.

If the average commute isn’t so bad, maybe the hue and cry over traffic congestion is overblown.

On the other hand, the survey deals in national averages, which may be meaningless. What is the telework participation rate in New Urban Regions, like Washington, where traffic congestion is more burdensome?

(Hat tip to Robert Jackson for pointing out the Reuters article.)

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6 responses to “Still a Lot of Slack in Telework”

  1. I telecommute full time, making the Spotsylvania to Dulles commute once or twice a month just so they remember what I look like.

    Trust me, a 20 minute commute would still suck compared to the walk upstairs, having lunch with my wife almost everyday, etc.

    I can’t imagine ever going to back to full time office / cube life.

  2. Jeremy Hinton Avatar
    Jeremy Hinton

    Home environment also plays a good deal into the equation. 95% of my job could be done remotely with a computer and phone, and I’m 1 of only 2 employees left in my office. My commute is only 5 minutes / 3 miles for those few times i would need to set foot in the office.

    I seem like an ideal candidate for telecommuting but for one thing. I have 2 small pre – school age children at home in a 1 story house. Children who are to young to understand that daddy needs to work and can’t play.

    Once the boys are in school, maybe telecommuting will be a more viable personal option (though who knows what my employment will look like then).

  3. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    I used to telecommute, and it was great for just the reasons you mention.

    But much of the work we do cannot be done at home. It may be exciting work, but it needs a lot of space and/or machinery to happen. And people do like the social interactions at work.

    For most people the commute isn’t that bad. But, what if you have a 20 minute commute and 7 minutes of it is in congested traffic. What is going to stick in your mind? My free flow trip would be 25 minutes, but because of congestion it is 35 minutes. Not too bad, but it is still a waste of an hour a week over what might be possible.

    80% of congestion occurs on ten percent of the roads during 15% of the time. Most of that is during travel to work time. Since travel to work is only 20% of all travel, it turns out that all of that congestion, delay, pollution, and waste involves only 10% of travelers.

    And we already know that reducing traffic 10% can make a huge difference in terms of delays. So in this respect, Jim Bacon is right, it would appear that ramping up telework could help, and maybe help significantly.

    There are two problems, though. The figures show you would have to get ten people to telecommute to capture one of those who is currently trapped in (or causing) traffic congestion.

    And then, just like any other TDM process, you will have freed up a space in the most popular route at the most popular time, and some other driver will occupy that space opportunistically. It is that same old problem of latent demand. One of the things that we fail to realize about TDM is that it is already at work, and the result is a lot of latent demand.

    So, even though the current problem only involves 10% of drivers, there are a lot more people out there willing to step up if the chance, space, and time, is right.

    And all of those people are out there working around the problem in silent frustration that they can’t get done what they want, when they want. As a consequence, there are a lot mor people complaining about traffic congestion than there are involved in it.

    The flip side of the argument that if the average commute isn’t so bad, maybe the hue and cry over traffic congestion is overblown, is that the vast majority of traffic moves OK.

    So, maybe it is the impossibility of fixing the problem that is overblown. We don’t need to have free flowing traffic, everywhere, all the time. We also don’t need to have ten percent of the population tring to occupy 0.1% of the territory at the same time.

    Maybe a little bit of telework, a lttle bit of bottleneck destruction, and a little bit of job relocation would do the trick. Who knows, we might even be able to do it without reconstructing all the land use on the planet.

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    I’m a full time employee of a major corporation and work out of the house 2-4 days a week. This is a giant high tech firm but the concept of a telework employee really throws them — no policies to help with my telecom costs, some confusion on what is or is not reimbursable mileage from this location, parking costs when I go downtown, etc. They haven’t thought this through and I’ll bet there is a hodgepodge of policies. Oh, and there is real jealousy from some of the other employees when they find out I work out of my house most days (so then I mention the occasional mega commute.)

    I worry that my county will find me and try to force my employer to get a business license, pay BPOL tax, etc on my activities (our main office is 100 miles away, and I have an office there too so I guess I could claim that as my principal place of business.)

    We’ve got a long, long way to go on this before it really catches on for anyone but the truly self-employed. I’ve done this as self-employed off and on since the early ’90s, but this is my first experience as a full time employee with a home office.

    The ability to come upstairs from breakfast and log on with no commute? Priceless.

  5. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    I’ve telecommuted (except for one 10 month stint as a potted plant when a new office was opened and senior exec didn’t want it to be empty) since Nov 1998. Love it.

    I have to travel and be gone for weeks at a time or just a few hours. Travel can be anywhere and the next day. So, working from home makes up for that to a large extent.

    Working from home increases productivity because the necessary and important social dynamics of human interaction in the office are gone and their time chit with them. I grip and grin like normal folks when I am on travel.

    It meant I was a security blanket for last kid in high school to just be here when I wasn’t on travel. Almost the last half of my dog buddy’s life (big guy who almost made 15 – remarkable dog) I was home with him – an unestimable comfort to both of us. We are getting by with one car now, so we could buy great kid a nice car to start real life. And, during a nor’easter when I make that commute upstairs with a big cup of coffee, turn on the music or radio – it really is priceless for quality of life.

    I do sense jealousy when some folks find out. I let them know that as long as I keep making money for Mother Corporation every year, Mother Corporation is happy for me.

  6. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Really. I worked for a small firm (250 employees) that were spread out all over the U.S. Many worked at home mostly, but a few worked at the customers sites.

    My place of business was at home, so when I had to report to the customers office, I got paid for mileage. Telephone bills and postage were reimburseable, but internet access and home office were not, however those could be deducted as business expenses.

    My work was intemittent: a couple of hours to set up a computer model, and then several hours for it to run. I did this several times a day at long intervals, and worked on the farm while the computer was thinking. My boss’s schedule was as whacked out as mine, so we would have status meeting at midnight.

    Ahh, the good old days, down on the farm.

    Your company needs to wake up.

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