Telecommuting

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management defines telecommuting (also called teleworking) as "the ability to do your work at a location other than your 'official duty station.'" Personal computers and portable telecommunications devices enable employees to complete many work tasks from locations besides the traditional work site. The Washington State Transportation Working Group to the State Climate Action Team is recommending this strategy. At the federal level, each executive branch agency must enable employees to "participate in Telework to the maximum extent possible without diminished employee performance." Greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction for this strategy in Tacoma is estimated to be 86 tons by 2010-12.

Strategies and Greenhouse Gas Reduction

  • Encourage telecommuting for municipal and other city employees whose job duties can be performed from home.
  • Establish strategically placed telecenters.
  • GHG reductions for these strategies in Tacoma are estimated to be 86 tons by 2010-12.

Cost to the City
The U.S. Conference of Mayors cites the Houston, Texas "Flex in the City" program as a model telecommuter program. This program cost the city $200,000/year, which includes a staff position for coordination and outreach, and associated overhead.

Stakeholders

  • Tacoma employees
  • Tacoma managerial staff
  • Tacoma business community

Barriers
Barriers for employees:

  • Start up costs will include electronic equipment, high-speed internet access, and suitable office equipment.
  • The home setting may not be a conducive work environment. Space limitations and distractions from children or neighbors impeded productivity.
  • The lack of face-to-face contact with supervisors and co-workers may pose difficulties if the work tasks are not clear enough to complete without personal contact, or if the employee works best in a social environment and is motivated by social interaction. Some employees would feel isolated telecommuting.
  • Employees may not be convinced that their managers can effectively manage at a distance. Employees may also have the perception that they will be regarded as a lower status worker by working away from the office, or that their non-telecommuting colleagues will resent them.
  • An unstructured remote work environment can lead some employees to become workaholics-unable to draw boundaries between work and the rest of their lives.

Barriers for managers/employers:

  • The organizational context of the workplace is not appropriate either because it has yet to develop electronic networking norms, the managerial style is hierarchical, or expectations are governed by attendance ("face time") as well as results.
  • The managers do not perceive their employees to be self-disciplined enough to work from a remote site.
  • The managers want continual face-to-face contact to ensure quality control.
  • Employers may have to support some or all of the start-up costs associated with off-site work.
  • Equipment problems will take longer to resolve due to decentralization away from IT professionals in the office.
  • Telecommuting requires managers to conduct more advanced planning of work tasks for employees.

Barriers for business community:

  • If workers who would ordinarily be commuting to downtown are working elsewhere, it is possible that downtown business will suffer, although there was no mention of such an impact in any of the literature on telecommuting.

Benefits
Benefits cited in research by Management Technology Associates, and anecdotal summaries by the North Carolina State Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. General Services Administration include:

  • Reduced overhead costs for employers
  • Improved recruitment and reduced employee turnover for employers
  • Increased productivity ranging from 10-40 percent and decreased absenteeism
  • Increased organizational flexibility
  • Reduced travel time and associated costs for employees
  • Improved balance of work and family life and reduced stress for employees
  • Flexible hours for employees
  • Increased job satisfaction and morale
  • Access to work for people with special needs

Partners
This will be a partnership between the City and private employers.

Tasks
At a minimum, the City must devote some staff to create an outreach and training program for employers, employees, and managers. The City may also follow Houston's lead and create a position to coordinate telecommuting efforts, and/or Chula Vista's lead and establish telecenters or co-working environments.

Success Stories
Houston, TX-Flex in the City
Houston works with more than 140 large employers to encourage telecommuting and flexible work schedules. A survey of employee participants found that 58 percent of the respondents reported morning and/or evening stress levels to be lower or much lower and 96 percent of respondents found their productivity levels on the job to be the same or higher than it was while commuting. The program is supported by the City and corporate sponsorship ranging from $500 to $7,500. The program is run to encourage telecommuting around target dates.

Chula Vista, CA (Peer Cities)
The City of Chula Vista set up telecenters to encourage telecommuting. Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per week decreased 954 miles per week. The centers have approximately 1,500 square feet housing computer work stations, lounge areas, conference rooms (including video conferencing technology), and office equipment. An electric shuttle van is being planned to encourage zero-emission transportation to and from the centers. The telecenters are funded by the City and corporate partners. A local university provides internet access. The buildings also demonstrate green building and design features. Current implementation information on this initiative is not available. Multiple marketing and outreach strategies are associated with the telecenters including pamphlets, leaflets, presentations, press releases, and advertisements.

Other Peer Cities
Other peer cities (cities with populations between 125,000 and 275,000 people that are members of the ICLEI Cities for Climate Protection) that prioritize telecommuting programs in their climate action plans include: Ft. Collins, CO; Durham, NC; Providence, RI; and Worcester, MA.

Seattle and Portland
The City of Portland's 2001 local action plan on global warming includes sought to enable 25 percent of City and county employees to telework at least one day every two weeks. The City also sought to expand the availability of tele- and video-conferencing facilities. Portland's 2005 update makes no mention of these telework initiatives. Seattle's 2006 Climate Action Plan does not prioritize telework strategies.