Telecommuting for a greener workplace

First published July 2008, last updated September 2012

It’s tragic that in our modern society with all the labor saving devices we have, some parents have to spend more time commuting to and from work than they get to spend interacting with their children.

These so-called labor saving devices and gadgets that supposedly improve our quality of life are part of the reason so many of us work so hard and actually negatively impact on our lives (and the environment), but that’s another topic altogether (see The Story Of Stuff).

Additionally, people often aren’t being paid for the time spent travelling and the environment may also be paying a high price for this travel to and from work.
Working from home is a dream for many people, one that I’ve been privileged enough to achieve for the last 11 or so years. With so many jobs mainly based around computers these days, telecommuting is becoming increasingly popular. It saves employers and employees time, money and reduces travel related greenhouse gas emissions; as well as lightening the demand on oil.

My experience

Back in 2000, like many people, I was physically commuting to work. This consisted of a 22km (15 mile) commute each way daily, which wasn’t too bad I guess, but over a year, that amounted to over 9000 kilometres (over 5,500 miles). While that’s a short distance compared to the commute of some and it was mostly carried out via public transport; that’s still a lot of fuel to shuttle my butt back and forth.

I also *really* resented the time it was taking out of my life – over 10 full days of my life each year.. unpaid.. and time I’ll never get back. Over my remaining working career, that would have likely equated to 1 full year of my life! How much of your life will you lose?

I’d look around me each day on the train or bus at the sad, long faces and ask myself – why am I doing this when there’s an alternative?

I decided to make a major change in my life and started to work purely from a home office – and have never looked back. While telecommuting does present some challenges; it’s saved me time, money and impact on the environment. Think of the millions of people who commute each day around the world – the related oil consumption and emissions must be truly staggering.

According to a study from 2008, thirty-three million Americans hold jobs that could be performed at home. There has been some progress since then. In the USA, more than 10% of the workforce works from home at least one day a week. Full time telecommuting has grown from 2.3% in 1980 to around 4.3% in 2010.
Based on my previous commute and lets say a (very) conservative saving of just over 1 gallon of fuel per week if one million of those Americans worked from home; that would be 52 million gallons of gas saved a year; avoiding (again conservatively and based on a formula from the EPA) 1,008,800,000 pounds of carbon emissions annually! The real figure would be far, far higher as the aforementioned study suggests.

There’s just really no need for many of us to have to drag ourselves into a remotely located office for 40 hours a week. We have email, instant messaging, video conferencing and online collaboration software, VoIP (Voice over IP – Internet telephony) – all the tools we need to work effectively.

I spent 6 years telecommuting full time for a USA company from my home in Australia – and never once physically met any of my colleagues! While that sort of isolation doesn’t suit everyone, it’s just an example of how far technology has come to allow that sort of remote working capability for extended periods.

Employers – there is little to fear and much to gain

Can any of your staff work from home – even if just for a couple of days a week? Have you asked if any of your staff would like to do this?

Many companies fear that telecommuting results in a lack of productivity; but happy staff are generally more productive. You just need to ensure that the employee has a quiet space in their premises from which to operate, the appropriate online collaboration software tools and the equipment they will be using is properly secured.

An experiment carried out by researchers from Stanford University in 2012 found employees who volunteered to work from home led to a 13% performance increase and a job attrition reduction rate of 50%. The company estimates the experiment resulted in a saving of $2,000 per employee.

After the experiment, the company involved offered the program to all employees; which saw the performance impact from those working from home more than double.

Telecommuting employees require a different style of management too; based more on results rather than clocking in and out. A couple of great resources for learning more about how to implement a telecommuting program can be found at

If your company does decide to allow people to telecommute, it’s something worth crowing about too among your sustainability efforts.

Employees – ask about telecommuting

Would you like to work from home but there’s no telecommuting program in place at the company you work for? Maybe it’s because management just hasn’t had the time to investigate the option. Why not do a little of the groundwork yourself, gathering information from the resource mentioned above and submit a proposal. You could offer yourself as the trial subject :). At the very least, it might show your bosses you have initiative – perhaps you might even get a raise or promotion ;).

Are you a telecommuter or an employer with telecommuting staff? Please share your experiences below.