Most people's routines include a commute to their workplace each weekday, yet many are now choosing to forgo the drive for a chance to work from home or an alternate location closer to home.
Telecommuting, or working remotely from a place other than an employer's primary office, is a reality for many Americans [source: Gordon]. The number of people working from home is increasing. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 5.5 million people worked at home in the period from 2006 to 2008 [source: U.S. Census Bureau: News]. An unrelated study showed that 17.2 million Americans reported working from home or remotely at least one day a month in 2008 [source: WorldatWork]. It is important to note that some of these people might be self-employed instead of simply telecommuting, yet there are certainly many that are taking advantage of this alternate work arrangement.
Not all jobs offer telecommuting as an option, but it can have obvious benefits for certain people, companies and even the environment. In this article, we will explore 10 reasons you might consider working outside your employer's main location. First, let's look at what workplace advancements have made telecommuting more accessible.
Technological advancements such as e-mail and video conferencing have opened up the world of telecommuting to many more Americans, allowing them to work efficiently even when not in the office. "The technology has allowed more people to do more parts of their jobs in more different locations than ever before," said Gil Gordon, a longtime telecommuting consultant.
New tools and employer tech support have made it convenient for employees to stay in touch with their managers and colleagues through calls, instant messaging or video conferencing. Customer service representatives might be able to take calls from home or a coffee shop just as easily as they can from an office. Lawyers can review patent contracts from home using a secure server system [source: Rhodes]. Even doctors are using technology to help them diagnose patients remotely [sources: Terdiman, Flynn].
Because of the nature of some jobs, such as retail cashiers or airline pilots, telecommuting might never be an option for them, but for many positions, technology has made this work style a viable alternative and sometimes even a preferred way of doing business. "Teleworking is best suited to jobs that are information-based, predictable, portable or that demand a high degree of privacy and concentration," said Marcia G. Rhodes, the spokeswoman for WorldatWork, an international human resources company.
Technological advancements have made it easier for people to connect across vast distances, making face-to-face meetings less necessary -- or at least less frequently required. If you don't have to drive to see your colleagues or sometimes even your clients, you can dramatically reduce your time spent in the car, leaving additional time for work or personal tasks.
According to a 2003 Bureau of Transportation survey, the average commuter spends about 26 minutes on a one-way trip to work, and a majority of commuters drive their personal vehicles [source: U.S. Department of Transportation]. That means that commuters, on average, spend about 52 minutes or nearly an hour a day in the car traveling to work and back home. This means that the average American spends more than 100 hours commuting to work each year, longer than the standard two weeks of vacation given to most employees [source: U.S. Census Bureau: Facts & Features].
Next we'll explore how the lack of commute can offer benefits for the environment.
If you drive to work, or even take some public transportation options such as the bus, your commute is contributing harmful materials into the atmosphere.
Mobile sources, such as cars and trucks, are the largest contributors to air toxics, some of which have been linked to serious health problems, including cancer [source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Pollutants]. Also, vehicle emissions produce other air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons. Yet, one of the biggest environmental effects of driving vehicles is the production of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, that are believed to affect climate change [source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Pollutants].
All of these stresses on the environment can be reduced in some small way by leaving your car at home and telecommuting instead. In fact, not using your car for just two days a week can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 1,600 pounds (725 kilograms) per year [source: U.S Environmental Protection Agency: Climate].
Not commuting to work helps the environment along with saving you time, but it can also save you money. While the money that you save will vary depending on your commute, you can calculate your relative savings easily. Just take the average price per gallon of gas, your car's average miles per gallon and then your daily commute distance. For example if you own a 2009 Honda Accord that gets about 24 miles per gallon with combined city and highway driving, and your average weekly commute is about 50 miles, then you could save about $289 a year on gas alone [source: Fueleconomy.gov].
Not having to drive your car to work on a daily basis can help you save money in other ways, too. For example, you likely won't have the number of miles of wear-and-tear on your car. You might also save on parking expenses. Since you aren't in the office, you also might not spend as much on clothing or dry cleaning. And, instead of going out to eat, you even might eat lunch more frugally from your own kitchen [source: Wilsker].
Many employees feel that they could be more productive outside of the office -- away from distractions such as a gum-popping colleague or the social aspect of the office. "The one (reason) that is most surprising is that employees want to do this (telecommute) because they are frustrated by how difficult it is to do their work in the office," Gordon said.
Taking away the distractions can make people more productive, but holding employees more accountable for their productivity can also have an effect. Wilsker notes that even though employees may be present in the office in front of their computers, there is no way of knowing whether they are actually working. According to a 2005 study, employees who accessed the Internet at work reported spending about 3.4 hours per week accessing non-work related sites [source: Websense].
Since many telecommuting jobs do not revolve around the time spent, but instead how much you can produce for the company, it could make employees more efficient with their time. "I find that people are more productive because they are task-oriented, not time-oriented and (think that) 'I need to get my job done,'" Wilsker said.
Some companies have seen this affect their bottom lines. For example, Cisco, a company that deals in networking equipment and network management for the Internet, found in a study that it has generated an estimated annual savings of $277 million in productivity by giving employees the option to telecommute and telework [source: Cisco].
The potential for increased employee productivity would a plus for many Because employees who telecommute are not in the office as often as regular employees, the company might be able to scale back its office space, which could reduce the company's rental expenses [source: Wilsker]. These smaller spaces may also come with lower utility bills.
In addition to office space, telecommuters probably don't use as many of the free perks that companies offer in-house. Many offices offer free coffee, tea and even snacks for employees in the office. These costs might be able to be reduced because a fewer number of employees would be taking advantage of them [source: Wilsker].
Finally, telecommuting can often be used as a bargaining chip for employees' compensation. "We see people who are willing to go to work for less if they can work from home," Wilsker said.
Benefitting a company's financial situation can mean more stability for the business and for its employees.
We've already looked at how increased productivity and savings can benefit both the company and the individual. But so does the possibility for an employee to relocate while keeping his current job.
For example, let's say an employee's spouse's job is transferred to a city across the country. The employee likes working for his current employer, but for family reasons must move to the new location. A company that offers telecommuting might be able to keep this seasoned and productive employee working for them. This situation offers benefits for both the employee, who still has a job, along with the employer, who doesn't have to train a new employee and retains possibly the best person for the position [source: Wilsker].
On the other hand, however, this also means that employers might be more likely to look outside of their geographic region for new employees. "You can hire and acquire better people that more fit what you are looking for if a commute is not an issue," Wilsker said.
Along with flexibility in location, telecommuting can also mean flexibility with your time. "Scheduling conflicts related to personal and professional obligations, and not lack of money, is usually the main reason an employee seeks a telework arrangement," Rhodes said.
Flexibility in work schedule can allow an employee to hone in on the best work time for him and his clients. This could mean starting a little earlier, perhaps the hour you would have spent in the car. For those that are morning people, this might be your most productive or creative time of the day. This can also be a benefit for those that have many clients in different time zones [source: Rhodes].
A flexible work arrangement could also allow employees to take advantage of doing errands during off-times when others might be in the office. Going to the bank at 10 a.m. could save an employee time and stress. An employee might also do this with exercising. If your optimum exercise time is 3 p.m., you can take a jog then and work later to make up for that time [source: Gordon].
Along with individual flexibility, a telecommuting position can help you better balance your job with your personal life. There is a possibility for less conflict in trying to balance the demands of a family with a full-time job when telecommuting [source: Gajendran and Harrison].
For example, not having to head out of the house for a 30-minute commute could allow a parent to drop his child off at school [source: Gordon]. Another possibility is that a parent might be able to stop work at 3 p.m. for a snack with his children and then start work again after the kids have gone to bed.
Smaller benefits might include the ability to perform more home maintenance throughout the day. Utilizing 15-minute breaks for throwing in a load of laundry or starting the dishwasher wouldn't be possible at the office, but it can be done while telecommuting. Also, working from home might allow you to have repair workers, such as plumbers or pest controllers, at your home on weekdays since someone will be home to let them in.
The problems with a physical commute, such as getting stuck in traffic, can be a huge stress for people [source: Mozes, Spilner]. But telecommuting can have stress-lowering implications for employees [source: Gajendran and Harrison]. "For many people, the hardest part of their work day is getting to and from the office," Gordon said. "To the extent that they can commute fewer days in the week, that is just that much less stress in their lives." According to a study sponsored by Hewlett Packard in the United Kingdom, participants' heart rates and blood pressure levels rose to levels higher than those of experienced fighter pilots going into combat during their daily commutes [source: Hewlett Packard].
Telecommuting can also offer employees a sense of greater control over their work lives than in an office environment. Employees still have deadlines and goals that need to be met, but telecommuters might not be as micromanaged as those in the office. "They feel more in control," Rhodes said. "For employees these days it is very important that they feel that they are in control of when and where their work gets done, that they have autonomy."
From reducing stress to helping the environment, the benefits of telecommuting have increasingly become open to more workers. Telecommuting might not be a good fit for everyone, but technology and employer support have started to change the way that work can be done. "In this knowledge-based economy, what is important is getting the job done, not when, where or how many hours it took," Rhodes said.
Can you make your home office more sustainable? Keep reading to learn about the Top 5 Ways to Make My Office More Sustainable.
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