Honk If Your Company Loves Telecommuting

As moderate-income and younger workers feel the pinch of money and time spent commuting, more large employers need to recognize alternative arrangements to recruit and retain these employees.

According to a new survey by the Urban Land Institute, 69% of the larger companies (those with 100-plus employees) believe a long commute time increases employee stress, but 55% reported a lack of affordable housing near their location.

The vast majority say this lack of affordable housing has a negative impact on retaining qualified entry-level and mid-level employees. And 58% say a lack of affordable housing has resulted in losing employees, at least in part to long commute times, as moderately priced housing is often located far from large employment centers.

The Harris Interactive survey, conducted on behalf of the Urban Land Institute, polled 2,261 adults. This figure included 1,215 workers who commute to an office or place of work three or more days a week.

Those with incomes of less than $50,000 — the “mainstream” workforce — were significantly more likely to move closer to work if affordable housing were available than those with higher incomes.

And 76% of workers between 18 and 34 would be at least somewhat likely to make a lateral employment move in exchange for a shorter commute or move closer to work if affordable housing were available.

Telecommuting Trends

Of course, not all companies can create housing closer to jobs, but companies always have the option of bringing the jobs much closer to home — through expanded telecommuting opportunities. Yet not all companies are ready to embrace the merits of working from home.

The survey, conducted between April 26 and May 1, shows that 45% of the larger companies offer flextime to reduce commuting time, but just 21% offer telecommuting.

A recent ERE poll, which asked whether the rising cost of gas prices would lead to expanded telecommuting programs, found a different statistic on telecommuting.

In that poll, 29% of companies say they plan to use a telecommuting program and will allow workers to telecommute every day, and 16% will allow workers to telecommute one or two days a week. Another 17% said they would consider it, if enough employees requested the option.

Balancing Recognition from the Home Office

However, a Korn/Ferry survey of 1,320 executives indicated that 61% believe telecommuters are less likely to be promoted, compared to their on-site colleagues.

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Despite this figure, at-home flexibility seems to be equally as appealing as promotions, since 48% said they would consider a telecommuting arrangement.

Numerous organizations that support expanded telecommuting efforts have been advancing federal legislation known as The Telecommuter Tax Fairness Act to prohibit states from taxing non-residents on the income they earn at home. The organizations believe the law would remove a significant obstacle to the growth of interstate telework.

Telecommuting: Eco-Friendly and Cost-Efficient

According to the Telework Coalition, there are numerous cost savings for companies that participate in these programs. Among others, Yahoo!, IBM, AT&T, Xerox, Cisco, and Sun are leaders in these programs.

IBM estimates that with 25% of its 320,000 workers telecommuting, the company has saved approximately $700 million in real estate costs.

Cisco has been expanding the use of videoconferencing, reporting that it cuts company travel by 20% a year.

Over at Sun, the Sun Open Work Practice allows flexible schedules for over 15,000 workers (some work from home up to five days a week, others only twice a week). The company also provides local “drop-in centers” that reportedly save an average of 90 minutes in commute time.

In addition to the flexibility inherent in an at-home arrangement, there are numerous environmental benefits. For example, the Department of Energy estimates that by 2010, the United States will count 29.1 million telecommuters, or 27.4% of the workforce, saving close to $100 million in fuel costs.

Such efforts, Sun claims, save $63 million and 29,000 tons of CO2 emissions. For Cisco, its videoconferencing initiatives have saved two million miles of travel, which will lower CO2 emissions by approximately 10%.

Elaine Rigoli has nearly 15 years of experience managing content and community for various B2B and consumer websites. Elaine has written thousands of business and technology articles and has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal and eWeek, among other publications.

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