Telecommuting Works

An excellent article from New Geography about it.

An excerpt.

Marissa Mayer’s pronunciamento banning home-based work at Yahoo reflects a great dilemma facing companies and our country over the coming decade. Forget for a minute the amazing hubris of a rich, glamorous CEO, with a nursery specially built next to her office, ordering less well-compensated parents to trudge back to the office, leaving their less important offspring in daycare or in the hands of nannies.

“The real issue is how we deal with three concerns: the promotion of families; humane methods to reduce greenhouse gases; and, finally, how to expand the geography of work and opportunity.

“For parents, particularly women, telecommuting provides a golden opportunity to balance the challenges of child-raising with those of work. Working at home, full or part-time, shrinks the number of hours wasted commuting and allows greater flexibility that is often critical to maintaining a family. In a country with a deteriorating fertility rate, and ever greater strains on those trying to raise children, telecommuting offers, at least for some, a way to remain in the labor force without cheating the next generation.

“Equally important, as the online universe expands, telecommuting allows us to reduce carbon emissions and energy use without forcing people to live in dense communities that most Americans, particularly in their adult years, clearly do not prefer. Greens, planners and many pundits seem anxious to force people to live in crowded housing close to buses and trains, yet rarely mention that it’s infinitely more eco-friendly to not commute at all.

“Finally there’s the often ignored issue of geography. If you force people to work in daily commuting distance from Yahoo’s Palo Alto headquarters, you are essentially telling them to live in a region where housing is among the most expensive in the nation. For anyone under 40 who does not have wealthy parents, a large amount of dot-com stock or recently robbed a bank, it’s almost impossible to buy a single-family home or spacious townhouse in the Valley, even in the only modestly attractive parts.

“So what’s the beef with the expansion of telecommuting? The conventional explanation usually revolves around the notion that putting employees together every day together generates greater innovation. See the New Yorker’s James Surowiecki for a good summary of this argument.

“That’s really not too surprising, since one of the last rationales for many without large financial resources to put up with big city home prices and taxes lies in the idea that, as the great economic royalist Michael Bloomberg maintains, you have to be located in “the intellectual capital of the world” to be successful. Natural allies of the anti-telecommuting crowd include urban land speculators and developers, who prefer that the “talent” remain chained to their particular locations and not wander off to the awful periphery.

“There are clearly advantages in face-to-face contact, particularly for younger people and top-echelon executives, who may be more effective minding the store if they hang around the office. But for most employees productivity actually rises with telecommuting.

“This is confirmed by broad studies such as one by the consultancy Workshifting that found, on average, a 27 percent rise in productivity among telecommuting employees. Over two thirds of the employers surveyed reported higher productivity among home-based employees, including British Telecom, Dow Chemical, American Express and Compaq.

“One of the best examples of telecommuting advantages can be seen at the high-tech company Cisco, which in contrast to Mayer’s assertion, has found telecommuters are effective at communicating and collaborating. It has also improved employee retention and also saved $277 million by allowing its employees to telecommute.

“Other companies reporting positive results, particularly in terms of retaining employees, from telecommuting, include IBM and Best Buy.”

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
This entry was posted in Technology, Transportation. Bookmark the permalink.