Telecommuting Programs Make Orgs Lean, Mean, And Green - InformationWeek
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Telecommuting Programs Make Orgs Lean, Mean, And Green

The most energy-efficient office is the one that's never built. Now, advances in remote access technologies may finally make telecommuters just as secure and productive as those working at HQ.

Third of a three-part series
For years, workplace experts have plugged telecommuting programs as a low-cost way to attract new employees and retain current ones. But implementing secure remote access also can be a cornerstone of a green IT initiative. Having hundreds of workers converge on a large, central hub, often in an urban area, is an environmental nightmare. Enabling remote access is a win/win: A positive green impact plus real dollar savings, better business resiliency, and increased morale.

IT's role is significant when putting a telecommuter policy in place because smart technology choices are needed to help employees work remotely without loss of productivity. But clearly, there's more to this than just a new VPN or remote backup system. Successful teleworker programs require organization-wide buy-in. Work-at-home policies and procedures must be put in place, and that means close coordination among IT, human resources, and business stakeholders, who also must assess the impact of proposed telecommuting initiatives and policies in terms of overall savings and operational benefits to the entire organization, not just IT. That's a critical point, because if you measure the effectiveness of the program by its effect on IT's budget alone, you'll miss the bigger picture.

In fact, unlike the technologies and architectures discussed previously in this series--such as green storage initiatives and centralized application implementations that more directly impact IT in terms of environmental footprint or bottom-line operational expenses--the real payback from a comprehensive telecommuting program is more likely to come on the business side. Benefits here include lower costs associated with office space, including utilities and leases; increased worker satisfaction and productivity; and operational flexibility. Having employees distributed around a region or the country adds resiliency and aids business continuity. Organizations with superior telecommuter infrastructures and established home-worker policies can more effectively sustain operations when natural or man-made disasters make working at the office impossible for a large number of employees.

Many IT organizations already have basic VPN capabilities in place, so the initial cost of implementing a bare-bones telecommuter program is relatively low.


The Green Effect
Why focus on home workers as part of your organization's green efforts?

  • Automobiles account for about 20% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions
  • 78% of U.S. commuters are solo drivers
  • Commuters idling in traffic jams waste some 2.9 billion gallons of gasoline each year, and spent 4.2 billion hours sitting in traffic in 2005 alone
  • Traffic jams and congestion cost the U.S. economy $78 billion in 2005, up from $15 billion in 1982
Data: Center For Urban Transportation Research, Federal Highway Administration, Texas Transportation Institute
An example of a successful telecommuter program is Sun Microsystems' Open Work program. Under this 14-year-old initiative, 20,000 Sun employees--more than half its workforce--work from home at least one or two days per week. In 2007 alone, Sun reduced its real estate holdings by more than 15%, saving some $68 million in associated costs. Sun also reports 30% lower initial and annual workplace costs for flexible employees (those working at home a couple of days a week) and up to 70% lower initial and annual workplace expenses for home-assigned workers compared with traditional office employees.

The program also provides substantial benefits to employees. Sun estimates that its Open Work employees save about $1,700 per year through reduced fuel consumption and vehicle wear and tear, gain up to 2.5 weeks of work time per year by eliminating daily commutes, and are generally very satisfied with the added flexibility that the program provides. There are environmental benefits, too, most notably the reduction of CO2 emissions by about 31,000 tons and reduced energy costs: Sun estimates about a 5,400-kilowatt-hour reduction per year for each employee who works from home for 2.3 days per week. A 15% reduction in real estate footprint means lower consumption of utilities as well. Finally, the company says, Open Work improved its business continuity and disaster response during the 2003 SARS outbreak and the 2007 California fires.

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