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Why You Shouldn't Demand Pay Cuts for Telecommuters

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by Denis Du Bois last modified May 17, 2011

May 17, 2011 -- CIO Magazine advice columnist Meridith Levinson tells IT workers they should get a raise for working from home. Denis Du Bois tells employers it's not just about the money. -- Energy Priorities



May 17, 2011 -- --

CIO Magazine advice columnist Meridith Levinson tells IT workers they should get a raise for working from home. Denis Du Bois reminds employers it's not just about the money.

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Citing three recent surveys (linked in her column), CIO Magazine editor Meridith Levinson points out that IT employees value telecommuting highly -- so much so that a third of them would accept less pay for the same job if they could work from home. A home-office worker herself, Levinson advises against it. She reminds readers that, yes, they'll save gas, but they'll incur some costs for working from home, particularly in their electric bills.

"If there are perfect candidates for working virtual,
IT workers are they."

Levinson says that employers should pay more to employees who work from a virtual office at home. Employees are more productive at home, she says, and save the employer money on office space and energy costs, among other expenses.

Some of this is true, as I'll explain in a moment, but money is not the only consideration in creating a corporate telecommuting policy.

Based on research from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), we know that more than two thirds of workers in America commute by private car, and the average round-trip commute is 29 miles. With average fuel consumption at 19.7 miles per gallon, those miles are responsible for almost 7,000 pounds of carbon emissions per commuter, per year.

Add the benefits of job satisfaction and work-life balance for employees, and the advantages of hiring flexibility and business continuity for employers. Then add the potential productivity recovered by reducing commuting time, "smoke" breaks, lunchroom gatherings and other office time-wasters. Suddenly a telecommuting program makes a lot of sense before it saves you a single dollar.

Now let's address the perception that workers save a lot of money by telecommuting, while employers' costs go up.

Related article:

"What Is Green IT? Part 1: Cutting Emissions and Energy Use Enterprise-wide"

Related EnergyBlog:
"Telework Improvements Act of 2010 Would Reduce Commuting by Government Employees" (2010)

In reality, unless an employee's car commute is markedly shorter than the national average, their fuel savings will outweigh any increase in electricity costs from keeping their home comfortable during the day. Cutting a $150 per month gas expense by 80 percent saves more than raising a similar-sized electric bill by 20 percent.

This dynamic is more applicable in Europe and Asia, where a person living alone would habitually shut off heating and cooling while they're away at work. Americans, who enjoy low, subsidized energy prices, are not in that habit, so there is not a significant increase in energy consumption or related carbon emissions from having someone at home all day.

The energy factor comes into play at the office. The average annual energy consumption for U.S. office buildings is 23 kilowatt hours per square foot. Each employee in a cubicle needs about 80 square feet of floor space. At an average energy cost of $1.65 per square foot, a 100-employee telecommuting program could save you $13,200 per year. Oh, and subtract another 100 tons of carbon emissions from your company's footprint.

So, as Levinson writes, don't even think of asking your employees to take a pay cut for working virtual. They're helping your triple bottom line. Should you offer more money to home workers? In the case of IT, I'd say probably so.

If there are perfect candidates for working virtual, IT workers are they. Employers' concerns about home workers often center around the Help Desk cost of flakey home internet connections and far-flung workers sitting idle waiting for a PC problem to be resolved. But IT staffers actually like to resolve those issues themselves, without calling for support.

These are the workers who will design the technological infrastructure on which your other teleworkers will someday depend. Working from home is a valuable first-hand experience for them.

IT staffers are already remotely managing data center systems. And these folks tend to be the most savvy about using teleconferencing, voice over IP, and mobile devices. That means IT workers can be transparent about their physical absence from the office.

If you're considering a formal telecommuting program, your IT staff is potentially the best place to start. Are you sure they're not already working from home?

Statistics came from these sources:
U.S. DOT, Bureau of Transportation Statistics
Federal Highway Administration
U.S. DOE, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
U.S. EPA, "Office Building Energy Use Profile"
U.S. DOE, Energy Information Agency, "Emissions of Greenhouse Gases Report"


By Denis Du Bois at Energy Priorities




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