This is the second in a four-part series about the state of telework. Part 1, about some of the roadblocks in place for teleworking, is here. This part looks at how telework benefits employers, and the next parts will be about how it relates to gas prices, and various signs of hope for telework’s future.
The series is based on my interview with Chuck Wilsker, who is a member of The Mobility Collaborative, consisting of some of the world’s top thinkers on transportation options, and President and CEO of The Telework Coalition, the leading telework non-profit in the United States.
What is the case for employers to enact stronger telework policies?
We know it works – for reducing fuel consumption, improving air and water quality, increasing mobility, reducing traffic congestion, reducing wear and tear on the transportation infrastructure. The best case to present to an employer, however, is that he or she can save up to $20,000 per year per full-time teleworker based upon reduced real-estate needs and corresponding overhead costs, improved employee retention, increased productivity, higher employee morale, and reduced costs relating to absenteeism.
The federal government has strengthened its telework initiatives mainly to increase Continuity of Operations (COOP), which is called Business Continuity (BCP) in the private sector. At the Telework Coalition, we did a study several years ago looking at mature telework policies in large organizations like DuPont, Ford, Deutsch Bank, and American Express. One thing we found: Deutsch Bank and American Express are two examples of companies that had telework policies in place prior to 9/11 and, within 48 hours of the terrorist attacks, although their facilities in the lower buildings at the World Trade Center were destroyed, had just about all of their employees based in those offices able to work from home or other facilities.
Speaking of 9/11, it’s not really good to say, but is bad stuff good for telework?
Traffic jams, Snowmageddon, weather disasters, the bridge collapse in Minneapolis and bridge closing between Lexington, Kentucky and Ohio are a few of the additional COOP/BCP benefits of telework. The Telework Enhancement Act was passed by Congress in 2010 after Snowmageddon was estimated to have cost the economy $100 million a day in lost productivity. It was actually only a loss of about $70 million a day because of the ability for so many people to work from home.
Is there a good example of the formation of a strong telework policy that wasn’t based on a catastrophe?
The military has been looking to put employees in places that are more secure through base realignments and closures (BRAC) – like moving Walter Reed Hospital from DC to Bethesda and Defense Department employees from Crystal City, Virginia to Fort Meade outside of Baltimore. People were threatening to quit because they were saying “you’ve got to be kidding me” about their shifting commutes. The military put together a telework program and was able to retain a significant amount of employees because of it.