Making The Case For TeleWorking

According to CDW Corporation's 2007 Telework Report, a mere 15% of employees in the private sector believe that they currently have the option to telework. Is this good enough? Probably not.  

Working remotely can have many advantages. One advantage has to do with worker productivity. Employees who do not have to spend time commuting, potentially have greater time to devote to their work tasks.

Indeed, the Annual Urban Mobility Report released by the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) highlights significant increased traffic congestion in all 437 metropolitan areas covered in the United States. According to the TTI, this gridlock puts a $78 billion annual drain on our economy in terms of 4.2 billion lost hours, not to mention 2.9 billion gallons of wasted fuel.

Furthermore, workers who are caring for children or other relatives, are better able to work for their companies when they are offered flexibility in terms of work location -- including teleworking from home.

On top of this, employers with dispersed teleworking employees are better able to continue operations in the event a primary center is shut down or disabled due to any type of disaster, whether natural, like an earthquake, or man-made, such as a terrorist strike. Significantly, while 74% of private teleworking employees report that they could continue working after such a disaster, only 28% of private non-teleworking employees could make the same claim, according to the 2007 CDW report.

In addition, with employees located outside of main offices, there is the potential for increased accessibility to customers through alternative lines and across usual business hours in multiple time zones (rather than having to utilize employees to work around the clock in just one time zone).

And with the possibility of hiring employees from a vast array of geographic areas when teleworking is a reality, employers have a much larger pool of prospective employees to choose from during the hiring process.

Not to be lost in the shuffle is the fact that employers with employees who work remotely very well may have less overhead expenses, as they may not need to pay for us much expensive office space at their primary business locations.

Happy workers, also, at times are better workers. This is important to keep in mind in conjuction with CDW telework survey results that indicate that employees who have teleworking options are more content with jobs than otherwise.

The foregoing is not theoretical, as real world examples have shown the benefits of teleworking. When an elevated section of freeway leading to the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge collapsed, for example, companies that had telework programs in place were better able to continue normal operations than companies without such programs. The same dynamic held true earlier during the 2005 New York City transit strike, as another example.

Interestingly, 40% of private sector IT managers state that their companies actually do have written policies for teleworking, and even more, 49%, report that they are willing to provide technical support to telworking employees. Well, those numbers are north of the 15% coming from private sector employees who believe they having teleworking options. Apparently, the word is not getting out fully to employees about their options. And even apart from that, one would think that society might benefit from more companies, not less than half, offering telework programs.

So, why are more companies not offering telework programs? Part of the explanation simply might be the historical mindset that employees must be physically present to be considered truly on the job. Indeed, some employers might be worried that employees who are out of sight also will be out of mind -- meaning that they necessarily would be less productive if not under the watchful eye of supervisors.

However, this might not be the actual case. First of all, just because an employee is physically present at the employer's place of business, that does not mean that the employee will never goof off, and it certainly does not mean that an employee will be constantly monitored.

Moreover, for remote employees, employers can establish objective performance benchmarks to ensure desired productivity. In addition, the actual work of remote employees can be monitored remotely online.

At the end of the day, employers are smart to consider telework programs for certain classes of employees who could benefit themselves and their employers by working remotely. Employers would be wise to consult with counsel to develop the best possible programs under the law, ensuring that the rights of the employers and teleworkers are safeguarded.

Eric Sinrod is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. His Web site is http://www.sinrodlaw.com and he can be reached at [email protected]. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod's columns, please send an email to him with Subscribe in the Subject line.

This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.