Sunday, June 22, 2008

Telecommuting: Employers, Have a Little Faith!

In 1990, I took a long sought-after job 68 miles from my canyon home. There were very long days in my new job, plus 3-4 hour commutes. Fridays were predictable nightmares, and often it took me 2.5 hours to drive that 68 miles. Moving was not possible.

At the time I worked for an international environmental group. I worked on energy issues, among other things, and I could not justify the drive. Without notice, I just stopped going in on Fridays, telecommuting instead. On the third week of my new experiment, I finally "told" my boss, and she just asked me to write an explanation, which I did... a well researched one. I never heard a thing again!

Most of my work was independent with a great deal of my time spent writing, organizing, and planning when I wasn't on the road or in an airplane flying to meetings or to state or national/international capitals. When I was in the office, I was usually on the phone... something I could do from anywhere. I often had calls held just so I could concentrate on a speech or a fact sheet or simply to do some reading. All of this, I thought, I could do from home.

A couple months later, I began telecommuting on Mondays. Soon, it was the whole week. I would roll out of bed, make some coffee, and work. For lunch I would run, take the dog for a walk, or water the garden.

There is only one downside to telecommuting for the employee, and that is one tends to overwork. I never kept strict hours in this job, always working far more than was required. Telecommuting, I found myself working 14 hour days on a consistent basis, including most weekends when I was home. I finally put my foot down and ceased my weekend work unless it was an emergency. I began to take longer lunches, as well. Finally getting my work day down to 11-12 hours/day.

The benefit to my employer was incredible. More work, same pay. I didn't have to fight to use the fax machines and printers, didn't have delays with Fed Ex packages getting lost all the time.

I had three phone lines and a fax line (downside for me... but not too bad), a desk-top and a lap top and voice mail.

The benefit to me was also incredible. Gone were the long commutes of 136 miles/day (I tried the bus, the train, combinations of the two, but nothing worked... the commutes were actually LONGER and more expensive using mass transit, not unusual in the "car country" of southern California). At the time, I got 16 or so miles to the gallon of gas. So, it was an incredible savings of fuel, and the money to buy it. I was also far less tired all the time, and my work performance was much better. I was also much less stressed which was much better for me and everyone connected with me.

Telecommuting does require someone that works well without direct supervision and obviously requires a job where personal one-on-one attention is not needed. Employers have long resisted telecommuting, and I have this to say: Have a little faith!

Hire the right people, make the job technologically easy, and do it. Employees spend less of their income on commuting, clothing, and even on day care. They are better employees, do better work, are less stressed and more productive.

Even allowing employees to telecommute 1-3 days/week will help you, the employee, reduce energy usage, and decrease air pollution. Employers, it is time to think differently.

There is, of course, the option of 4 10hr/day work weeks. This helps, but not nearly as much as telecommuting.