These days, employers who know they can be in instant communication with their employees through BlackBerrys, instant messaging, and wireless laptops don’t worry that teleworkers will spend their days raiding the fridge or watching soap operas. They’re also seeing that modern technology allows employees to be productive no matter where they are. The result is that more employers are focusing on the work being done rather than the number of hours spent at a desk. The numbers tell the story of this trend:
- 12.4 million employees—roughly 8% of the American workforce—worked from home at least one day a month in 2006.
- Well over two-thirds of all U.S. companies offered some telework options in 2005.
Employers who’ve given telework a try often report that teleworkers are actually more productive than their counterparts in the office. Airplane manufacturer Boeing found that average work productivity increased between 15% and 30%, and IBM observed a 10% and 20% increase in productivity. At AT&T—a company at the forefront of the telework movement— managers who telework have consistently reported gaining one hour of productive work for every day they work from home.
America’s best employers are catching on.
Seventy-nine of the firms on Fortune Magazine’s 2006 list of “100 Best Companies to Work For” allow employees to work from home at least 20% of the time. The country’s largest employer—the U.S. government—encourages its employees to work from home “to the maximum extent possible.”
Productivity increases are not the only upside for employers. Companies that offer telework save money on office space because teleworkers often share space with other employees or give up their offices entirely. Offering telework has also become an effective tool for recruiting and retaining employees at all levels. This is particularly true as both gasoline prices and housing costs have risen, forcing employees to live far from their workplaces and making their commutes more expensive.
Another boost to teleworking came in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina, when companies in the affected areas scrambled to remain operational. They realized that their off-site workplaces and workers were largely responsible for keeping them functional.
Telework is also socially responsible: Environmental concerns, particularly global warming and energy consumption, have provided another impetus to telework. Employers and employees alike have come to see telework as a way to reduce fuel consumption and other environmental impacts and also help clear up our overcrowded roads. A study commissioned by the Consumer Electronics Assocation found that the estimated 3.9 million full-time teleworkers in
the U.S. reduced gasoline consumption by about 840 million gallons and carbon dioxide emission by almost 14 million tons—the equivalent of taking 2 million vehicles off the road per year.
For every 37 miles not driven, a teleworker will avoid generating one pound of air pollution. If just 10% of U.S. residents worked at home one day per week, the country would conserve a whopping 1.2 million gallons of fuel per week.
Telework can provide employment opportunities for disabled persons. In fact, if a disability prevents you from doing a job on-site, federal law may be on your side. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodation for employees or qualified applicants with disabilities. One way employers may be able to meet this legal obligation is to offer telework. For more on using telework as a reasonable accommodation, see www.eeoc.gov/facts/telework.html.