Last week, Veronica Henry blogged about how telecommuting was "Good for Business, Great for the Planet." Today sees the release of some new facts and figures on the subject.
Citrix Online, which makes remote access products, natch, has come out with a report -- "Workshifting Benefits: The Bottom Line" -- claiming telecommuting could save US businesses $10,000 per employee, or a whopping $400 billion per year!
Conducted by the (unbiased?) Telework Research Network -- the study is all good news, but that $400 billion figure raised warning flags for me. The number comes from combining five-year-old data claiming that 40 percent of American workers could work from home at least part-time, and a 2009 survey indicating that 79 percent of them would do it if allowed.
Given that somewhat problematic universe, the study calculates savings of $235 billion in increased productivity, $46 billion in reduced absenteeism, and $31 billion in reduced employee turnover, plus $2 billion in highway maintenance costs, and $11 billion in traffic accident costs. The report also says that full commitment to telecommuting would save the equivalent of two to three weeks of time spent commuting, cut greenhouse gas emissions by 53 million metric tons (the equivalent of taking 9.6 million cars off the road), and reduce consumption of foreign oil by $23 billion.
To top it all off, the study cites a 27 percent increase in productivity on days when employees work from home, due to reduced interruptions, more effective time management, a feeling of trust, flexible scheduling, and longer hours available by reducing commuting.
Frankly, it all sounds a little too good to be true for me. I'm all for telecommuting when practical and appropriate, but I think we're being oversold.
Currently, the report says, only some 2 percent of workers actually do telecommute. Why? If you ask me that's partly because the right tools haven't been available, and partly because most companies -- and most people -- are built on the concept of people working together and getting to know each other in person.
A lot of these projected benefits are still pretty theoretical. For example, would telecommuters' productivity really stay elevated by 27 percent when half the company is spending half their days at home? Sure workplace distractions are a drag, but what about the distractions of working at home?
Also, the study seems to flip back and forth between part-time and full-time telecommuting options, when the two pose very different challenges and opportunities. For example, the study claims telecommuting cuts facilities costs. But those savings would be marginal for part-time telecommuting unless employees are willing to share office space in hoteling and hot-desking schemes -- the modern equivalent of hot-bunking on naval vessels. (Ewwww.)
More to the point, I have a lot of experience both telecommuting and working with telecommuters, and I can tell you there are pluses and minuses to the practice. Despite dramatic improvements in remote-working technology, it's a mistake to think that telecommuting can provide the rich interactions of in-person collaboration. That's less of an issue for part-time telecommuters, but then you lose some of the savings.
Hey, and don't forget about the poor folks stuck in the office. Past research has shown that telecommuters may be happy with their lot, but the remaining office workers are often resentful, feeling that that they're left having to pick up slack.
And then there's this: Buried in the Citrix Online report is a forecast by TechCast, estimating "the market for related telecommuting products and services at $400 billion a year." Well, there goes your $400 billion savings!