Telecommuting Trends

This month’s Economist, in an article called Home warriors, explores some fascinating issues around the implications of telecommuting and its implications on energy, policy and employment…not simply the availability of connectivity and email.

The writer argues that though technology and infrastructure has long been available, only now are the economic and commercial drivers unfolding that’s making teleworking an attractive default position for many employers, not just employees.

Here’s a few key items from the piece…

  • the writer would spent over an hour each day during the 70s commuting to a place of employment; he estimates that telecommuting from the mid-80s onwards has reduced his carbon footprint by over 60 tonnes.
  • Gartner Dataquest estimates that 25% of US employees worked from home, at least once a week in 2007. European levels seems to be comparatively higher.
  • Another study estimates that 33m Americans are employed in roles sutable for telecommuting; removing these commuters from daily travels could drive down oil imports by 25% and reduce carbon emissions dramatically….with the added benefit of increased productivity and perhaps even vacation time.
  • Employers are beginning to understand that increased agility, reduced costs and enhanced business continuity can flow from encouraging telecommuting, actually strengthening a business’ competitiveness and resilience whilst removing large capital and operational costs from the bottom line.
  • Studies of remote workers at American Express and BT show that they can be 30-40% more productive.
  • A separate study concludes that remote workers can suffer from career stagnation and isolation, but ironically suggests that richer, ambient and persistent communication channels are the solution.

There seems to be a perfect storm brewing – of technological innovation, improved competitiveness, soaring fuel costs and a desire to tackle climate change – that might push telecommuting and remote working into the default pattern of work for most employers.

As the commercial and technological environment matures, perhaps the focus for telcommuting now needs to explore the neccessary cultural, social and civic infrastructure neccessary to take advantage of this perfect storm…


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