Road Time Costly to Companies, Employees

Too much traffic, too long a commute and too many workers losing productivity. The challenge is not new and neither is the potential solution of telecommuting. The leader of one of the nation's leading workplace consulting firms says it's time for change.

“By not expanding the use of telecommuting, employers are negatively impacting the environment, worker productivity, job satisfaction and, most importantly, their bottom lines.  And, it is not a lack of technology or other resources that is holding back this expansion.  It is simply a lack of vision, a shortage of trust and an irrational adherence to antiquated notions of how and where work should be done,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

The call for increased telecommuting comes on the heels of a new report from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, which revealed that increased traffic congestion is forcing the nation’s workers to build in extra time to their daily commutes to the tune of $121 billion in wasted time and fuel in 2011.

Obviously, there are many occupations that are not conducive to telecommuting.  However, the number of jobs that can be done remotely have grown significantly over the last two decades and will continue to expand going forward.

The latest available statistics from the Telework Research Network indicate that 3.1 million people, not including the self-employed or unpaid volunteers, considered home to be their primary place of work in 2011.  That is roughly 2.5 percent of U.S. nonfarm payrolls.

Overall, the number of telecommuters increased by 73 percent between 2005 and 2011.  However, according to the data, the number of telecommuters remains well below the potential.  The Telework Research Network estimates that as many as 64 million U.S. employees (just under 50 percent of the workforce) hold a job that is compatible with telework.

“Companies are embracing the latest portable tablets and laptops, social networking, video conferencing and many of the other technological advancements that make telecommuting increasingly viable.  However, in many ways, companies are stuck in the old way of doing business, where people are expected to work from 9 to 5 and are judged more on the amount of ‘face time’ than on the quantity or quality of output."

Companies that have embraced telecommuting have found that their remote workers are just as, if not more productive than traditional office workers.  Analyses of Best Buy, British Telecom, Dow Chemical and many other employers have found that teleworkers are 35 percent to 45 percent more productive.  American Express found that its teleworkers produced 43 percent more than their office-based counterparts.

In addition, various studies have found that telecommuting employees are happier, more loyal, and have fewer unscheduled absences.

Why Won’t This Traffic Move?

Trying to get out of town to begin a weekend away? Making a few extra stops to take care of some errands to prepare for Saturday and Sunday at home? Either way, it’s not just perception that those Friday afternoon commutes are a little more difficult than normal.

A new study examines, by metro area, just how tougher it is to get where you want to go after work on Friday compared to the rest of the week. A few of the details from Governing, as reported by traffic research firm Inrix.

The Los Angeles metro area, notorious for its backups, recorded the longest Friday afternoon delays of the 100 areas measured. Average Friday commutes for the region were 44 percent longer than without any congestion, compared to about 34 percent more during peak hours Monday through Thursday. That’s enough to add about 13 minutes to a trip taking 30 minutes without traffic.

Similarly, San Francisco motorists sat in traffic an average of 35 percent longer on Friday afternoons, extending a 30-minute trip by more than 10 minutes.

Morning commutes aren’t as bad because motorists usually head straight to work without making stops on the way.

Areas with many workers living far outside a city can experience significant congestion when all flee the office early. The study cited Bridgeport, Conn., which recorded the nation’s fifth-longest Friday afternoon delays, as an example.

The Washington, D.C., area’s Friday morning commutes are less congested than any other weekday, likely explained by the large number of federal employees who work from home that day. But with many traveling for the weekend, the area’s Friday afternoon commute still ranks among the nation’s worst.

For some cities, the added delay on Fridays may be more noticeable than others. Portland, Ore., had the largest percentage difference in delays of any area measured by Inrix, with a 30-minute trip taking 3 minutes, 13 seconds longer on Fridays than average times recorded for Monday through Thursday rush-hour traffic.