Telework Pros and Cons: 28 Reasons To "Telework"--With Data To Back Them Up

This is a guest post by Kate Lister. Kate, along with partner Tom Harnish, runs a web site called, which offers advice on work at home jobs, freelance opportunities, and home-based businesses. Kate and Tom are telecommuting researchers and authors; their academic study of the topic is balanced with practical lessons they've learned from over twenty years of home-based work and business ownership. They are currently working on a book, Undress4Success—The Naked Truth About Working From Home for John Wiley & Sons (March 2009). This will be their third book for Wiley.

The terms telework and telecommuting were coined by Jack Nilles (, a former NASA engineer, more than three decades ago. "One of my colleagues at NASA was carrying on about if we can put a man on the moon, we ought to be able to do something about traffic," recalls Jack. So that's what he set out to do. Today, about five million Americans earn a full-time paycheck working at home. Our research shows than another fifty million could. While the concept of telework has been simmering for years, soaring gas prices are fanning the flame such that we may have finally reached a tipping point.

I've been working from home for over 25 years. Two years ago my husband and I sold the vintage aircraft flightseeing business that we operated for over sixteen years—from home. More unemployed than retired, we were determined to continue to live the at-home lifestyle to which we'd become accustomed, and set out to look for home-based work. It was a real eye opener to find that in spite of all the individual, corporate, and community benefits of telework, a huge number of stigmas and biases about it persist. So we decided to write a book on the topic. As part of our research, we've synthesized information from over 250 studies of telecommuting and related topics. We've interviewed dozens of telework enthusiasts and naysayers including researchers, Fortune 500 executives, virtual employers, venture capitalists who support the remote work model, and dozens of home-based workers in a wide variety of professions.

What we've concluded is that while there are some very real barriers to telework, the industry pioneers have proven it can be done and it is worth the effort. Telework offers a pull, rather than a push solution to a wide range of problems. It benefits employers, employees, and the community. A strong national telework strategy would increase GNP. It would substantially reduce our Gulf Oil dependence. It would bring traffic jams to a halt and reduce the carnage on our highways. It would alleviate the strain on our crumbling transportation infrastructure. It would help reclaim many of the jobs that have been lost to offshoring, and provide new employment opportunities for at-home caregivers, the disabled, and the un- and under-employed. It would improve family life, and emancipate latchkey kids. It would substantially bolster pandemic and disaster preparedness. It would reduce global warming. And it would save companies and individuals billions of dollars.

Naysayers argue that not every person or every job is right for telework. I don't argue that point. But studies show that 40% of jobs could be done from home and two-thirds of the working population say they'd prefer it. What's more, the companies that have tried telework have proven that the negatives can be easily overcome and the pros far outweigh the cons. Don't take my word for it, read on and decide for yourself:

Advantages of Telecommuting for the Community *

• Reduces our foreign oil dependence

- If the 40% of employees who could work from home did so half of the time (approximately the national average) it would reduce Gulf Oil dependence by almost 60% and save Americans $40 billion at the pumps (

• Slows global warming

- Half-time telecommuting could reduce carbon emissions by almost 80 million metric tons a year
- Tougher environmental laws are coming
- Telework offers easy Clean Air Act compliance
- Additional carbon footprint savings would come from reduced: office energy, paper usage (as electronic documents replace paper), roadway repairs, urban heating, office construction, and business travel

• Bolsters pandemic and disaster preparedness

- Three quarters of teleworkers say they could continue to work in the event of a disaster compared with just 28% on non-teleworkers
- A decentralized workforce would reduce the chance of another World Trade Center or Pentagon-like target to attack by removing the temptation that a large population center provides. If an attack does occur, fewer people will be effected, economic stability will be maintained, and continuity of operations is assured.

• Redistributes wealth

- Location-independent job opportunities offer better employment options to rural workers

• Higher productivity among teleworkers will increase GDP

• Cost savings from telework will encourage home-shoring and bring back many of the jobs that have been lost to foreign labor

Advantages of Telecommuting For Companies *

• Improves employee satisfaction

- People are sick of the rat race, eager to take control of their lives, and desperate to find a balance between work and life.
- Two thirds of people want to work from home
- 36% would choose it over a pay raise
- Gen Y’ers are particularly attracted to flexible work arrangements
- 80% of employees consider telework a job perk

• Reduce attrition

- Losing a valued employee can cost an employer $10,000 to $30,000
- Recruiting and training a new hire costs thousands
- 14% of Americans have changed jobs to shorten the commute
- 46% of companies that allow telework say it has reduced attrition
- 95% of employers say telework has a high impact on employee retention

• Reduces unscheduled absences

- 78% of people who call in sick, really aren’t. They do so because of family issues, personal needs, and stress.
- Unscheduled absences cost employers $1,800/employee per year; that adds up to $300 billion/yr for U.S. companies
- Teleworkers typically continue to work when they’re sick (without infecting others)
- Teleworkers return to work more quickly following surgery or medical issues
- Flexible hours allow teleworkers to run errands or schedule appointments without losing a full day

• Increases productivity

- Best Buy, British Telecom, Dow Chemical and many others show that teleworkers are 35-40% more productive
- Businesses lose $600 billion a year in workplace distractions
- Sun Microsystems’ experience suggests that employees spend 60% of the commuting time they save performing work for the company

• Saves employers money

- IBM slashed real estate costs by $50 million
- McKesson saves $2 million a year
- Nortel estimates that they save $100,000 per employee they don’t have to relocate
- Average real estate savings with full-time telework is $10,000 per employee per year
- Partial telework can offer real estate savings by instituting an office hoteling program
- Dow Chemical and Nortel save over 30% on non-real estate costs
- Offers inexpensive compliance with ADA for disabled workers
- Saves brick and mortar costs in industries where regulations or needs require local workers (e.g. healthcare, e-tail)

• Equalizes personalities and reduces potential for discrimination

- Hiring sight unseen, as some all-virtual employers do, greatly reduces the potential for discrimination
- It ensures that people are judged by what they do versus what the look like
- Communications via focus groups, instant messaging, and the like equalizes personalities. No longer is the loudest voice the only one that’s heard.

• Cuts down on wasted meetings

- Asynchronous communications allow people to communicate more efficiently
- Web-based meetings are better planned and more apt to stay on message

• Increases employee empowerment

- Remote work forces people to be more independent and self-directed

• Increases collaboration

- Once telework technologies are in place, employees and contractors can work together without regard to logistics. This substantially increases collaboration options.

• Provides new employment opportunities for the un and under-employed

- 18 million Americans with some college education aren’t working
- Less than a third of disabled Americans hold jobs (compared to 80% of rest of the labor force); 41 million disabled Americans are unemployed
- 24 million Americans work part time

• Expands the talent pool

- Over 40% of employers are feeling the labor pinch; that will worsen as Boomers retire
- Reduces geographic boundaries
- Provides access to disabled workers
- Offers alternative that would have otherwise kept parents and senior caregivers out of the workforce
- Offers geographic, socioeconomic, and cultural diversity that would not otherwise be possible

• Slows the brain drain due to retiring Boomers

- 75% of retirees want to continue to work—but they want the flexibility to enjoy their retirement

• Reduces staffing redundancies and offers quick scale-up and scale-down options

- Having access to a flexible at-home workforce allows call centers, airlines, and other to add and reduce staff quickly as needed.
- The need to overstaff, just in case, is greatly reduced
- 24/7 worldwide coverage is easier to staff with home-based help

• Reduces traffic jams

- Traffic jams rob the U.S. economy of $78 billion/year in productivity
- They idle away almost 3 billion gallons of gas and accounts for 26 million extra tons of greenhouse gases
- Every 1% reduction in vehicles yields a three fold reduction in congestion

• Prevents traffic accidents

- Highway deaths cost $60 billion a year and result in 3 million lost workdays
- More than a quarter of accidents occur during commuting hours

• Take the pressure off our crumbling transportation infrastructure

- Crumbling transportation infrastructure - new roads are being built to meet needs of 10-20 years ago. Less than 6% of our cites roads have kept pace with demand over the past decade.
- By 2025 we’ll need another 104 thousand additional lane miles - that will cost 530 billion

• Insures continuity of operations in the event of a disaster

- Federal workers are required to telework to the maximum extent possible for this reason
- Bird flu, terrorism, roadway problems, and weather-related disasters are all drivers
- Three quarters of teleworkers say they could continue to work in the event of a disaster compared with just 28% on non-teleworkers

• Improves performance measurement systems

- Drucker, Six Sigma, and management experts agree that goal setting and performance measurement is key to successful management
- For telework to work, employees must be measured by what they do, not where or how they do it

• Offers access to grants and financial incentives

- A number of states, including Virginia, Washington, and Connecticut, offer training and financial incentive for businesses that adopt telework.

Advantages of Telecommuting For Employees *

• Saves employees money

- Employees save on gas, clothes, food, parking, and in some cases, daycare (provided they can flex their hours to eliminate the need)
- Average savings is $7,000 to $13,000/year per person

• Increases leisure time

- Full time telework results in an extra 5 workweeks of free time a year—time that would have been spent commuting
- The majority of teleworkers report they have more time with family, friends, and leisure.

• Reduces stress, illness, and injury

- 80% of diseases show that stress is a trigger. Because telework reduces stressful commutes and alleviates caregiver separation issues, teleworkers are likely to suffer fewer stress-related illnesses.
- Teleworkers are exposed to fewer occupational and environmental hazards at home
- Teleworkers suffer fewer airborne illnesses because of lack of contact with sick co-workers
- Teleworkers report being able to make more time for exercise
- Anyone who has ever dieted knows it’s harder to stay the course when you dine out. Teleworkers often eat healthier meals and are less inclined to consume fast food lunches.

The Holdbacks To Telework *

• Management mistrust

- 75% of managers say they trust their employee, but a third say they’d like to be able to see them, just to be sure.
- Company culture must embrace the concept at all levels, sweatshop and typing pool mentality has to be abandoned
-From Peter Drucker’s introduction of Management-By-Objectives in the mid-1950’s, to Six Sigma which was popularized by General Electric’s Jack Welch in the 1990’s, setting and measuring goals has long been held as the key to good management.

• It’s not for everyone

- For some, social needs must be addressed. Telephone, email, instant messaging are a solution for some. Innovative solutions such as virtual outings, online games, and even Second Life have proven successful as well. Occasional telework is also a solution.
- Telecommuters must be self-directed
- They should be comfortable with technology or arrangements should be made for remote tech support
- They should have an defined home office space
- Home-based employees need to understand that telecommuting is not a suitable replacement for daycare unless they can schedule work hours around their children’s needs.

• Career fears from ‘out of sight out of mind’ mentality

- Some employees cite career fears as a reason not to telecommute. Successful teleworking programs overcome the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ issue with performance-based measurement systems, productivity versus presenteeism attitudes. Teleworkers who maintain regular communications (telephone, email, instant chat, even the occasional face-to-face meeting) with traditional co-workers and managers find career impact is not an issue.

• Co-worker jealousy

- Employees need to understand why they were or were not chosen for telework
- Employees should see telework as a benefit that is earned, not given
- Standards of selection should be uniform

• Security issues

- Security issues are easy to solve, but must be addressed
- 90% of those charged with security in large organizations feel that home-based workers are no a security concern. In fact, they are more concerned with the occasional work that is taken out of the office by traditional employees who lack the training, tools, and technologies that teleworkers receive.
- Security training should be provided for all employees

• IT infrastructure changes may be necessary

- Teleworkers need access to company systems, software, and data
- Infrastructure changes that support telework improve efficiency for office and traveling employees as well
- Companies need to address remote technical support issues. Off the shelf solutions exist.

All roads point to telework. As a nation, it’s time to make the road less traveled, our way to work.

* Statistical information contained herein comes from a wide range of studies. Sources are are available on request. Email info-at-undress4success-dot-com.

I have telecommuted for the past 5 years. It was an interesting process in how it came about. I was commuting from Asheville, NC to Charlotte, NC, a 3 hour drive. Renting an apartment and going home on the weekends. My immediate boss (the project manager) was all for the telecommuting idea, but the upper-level mgmt. was wary of it.

After 2 years of this, I got sick of it, quit my job and my spouse and I moved to Oregon. After 8 months, the guy who replaced me left the job suddenly, my old boss tracked me down and asked me to work for them again, telecommuting from Oregon. In this case, the cost-effectiveness of having someone familiar with the code outweighed any misgivings that upper-level mgmt had. Also, I was familiar with everyone in the communication chain, having worked with them personally for 2 years.

My job was an ideal one for this. Software development and maintenance in which the code base that I had helped develop in my first 2 years was what I was extending and maintaining. We had approximately monthly conference calls and typically a couple of weekly communications with the project leader and QA person.

Well the company went belly-up and my job just recently disappeared, leaving my in a slightly earlier than expected (but not unwelcome) retirement.

I've been telecommuting for about a year. I used to have a long Arizona commute. I work for a Medical company and support software, hardware, and reagent issues. I think it's win-win for the employer because I usually put in extra hours, just because I want to finish a project or a thought, etc.. I think on many levels it requires creativity and cooperation to work from home, but with today's computer systems, this can all be accomplished. The hardest part is getting the information you need, but once you figure out how to do that, it's an even playing field. I took this job partly because of TOD. Three years ago, I knew gas was going up. I didn't know by how much, but I trusted, RR and SS and PG, JB, MS, and Leanan, etc.. They were spot regrets here. While not for everyone, if all you need is a toe-hold, then it might be for you.

Being retired I have no reason to telework. As a radiologist I once used large amounts of energy and material, especially when circuit riding to remote locations, Teleradiology is now used to some extent. This is probably more suited for consultation, night call or emergency diagnosis as opposed to routine film reading. I am not up to date but I recall that at one time some scans were being read in India. I volunteer at a police department mostly working with false alarm problems. When an alarm occurs it is sometimes possible to check business cameras on a home computer, thus saving a trip.
Though I don't telework I do teleplay. Like now, playing on the computer instead of running off somewhere to waste gasoline..

I strongly agree with telework. I have been doing it for the past 8 years for a Fortune 100 company. Its actually because i spend about 50% time on the road, and my real office is across town, so working from home when I need to do office work makes a huge difference. There are a great many biases and prejudices around telework. Try going to a cocktail party and say "oh I work from home" people react as if you said "oh, I collect roadkill for fun and profit"

One point that was not mentioned above, is that the technology infrastructure is emerging to truly support telework, and make it more seamless with regular office work. It's called Unified Communications i.e. voice, data & video, over wireline and wireless, to laptops, handhelds & office systems. All the big vendors - Microsoft Oracle, IBM, Cisco, Avaya, HP, RIM, (even Apple) are touting it. It will take 5 years or more for this to really take hold. It's not just that people will be sitting at a desk at home, but that they will be mobile - in the car, in the airport, on the bus or subway, and still be productive.

I personally think the killer app will be video. When making a video call becomes as easy as picking up the phone, we will have arrived. We are a visual species, and we love to look at other peoples faces.

I personally think the killer app will be video. When making a video call becomes as easy as picking up the phone, we will have arrived. We are a visual species, and we love to look at other peoples faces.

I gotta put in my two cents here - this is still a corporate location to corporate location kind of thing. I inherited some one generation out of date commercial grade video conferencing gear from Boeing two years ago, I've tried to give it out to my high speed connected, technically literate co-conspirators, and the stuff is just collecting dust in a box at my house.

Now if I had a nickel for every time someone had told me video conferencing is the next killer app? Well, I'd jingle when I walked :-)

Telecommuting/telework has made sense for decades now. Nobody likes to traipse to the office, most would prefer to avoid that if possible.

However there are a number of issues that have prevented its uptake, on all sides:

For the individual there is a question of space and a desire to separate work and home - together with a desire for social connection to work and colleagues. That plays through to promotion prospects.

For the company there has been the throwback attitude that says people need supervision and the idea from managers that they have to support their position by keeping their 'empire' close.

From the government there is the stereotypical model of work that has guided their actions, making it difficult to work from home and preventing 'dual use' from showing the financial benefits it should.

As we move forward I expect a swift and seismic shift in attitudes as individuals get fed up of expensive time-consuming commutes and companies can no longer bear white elephant office blocks. However it will take a technology change, and a government that gives good tax breaks to initiate the change.

At a stroke it will give us 5-10 extra years before peak oil forces hard decisions. A worthwhile win.

PS: I work from home, and expect that those that work for me do the same.

Giddaye Gary...

If the work you do from home is interesting and self-motivation isn't an issue, then fine and dandy. However, if the work is for the most part repetitive, then it can be a struggle. After 12 years at home editing the weddings I videotape on the weekend (I was in an office situation before that - made the change to home when the babies came along), these days I find it all rather tedious working alone.

The pantry is my greatest nemisis!

Regards, Matt B
PS. I did get a motorbike recently for local erands to break up the monotony of the day. So far so good, and less than 4 litres per hundred kilometres to boot!

I would love to have some repetative task that could be accomplished at home. Something I don't have to think too much on, so I don't get stressed. A pay for performance system, where you get paid per X amount of data entered, etc would be fantastic for me. While I can telework every week out of the month, I usually do it one week a month, as face to face interaction is beneficial in what I currently do. With a data-entry type position, it wouldn't be necessary at all. I'm building a new home that is in the middle of practically nowhere. After it is completed, I plan on working from home 3/4 of the time, as the commute would be quite terrible.

"At a stroke it will give us 5-10 extra years before peak oil forces hard decisions. A worthwhile win." Posted by garyp

If telecommuting could somehow, magically "at a stroke" be expanded to the suggested 40% of the labour force NOW, the above statement would likely be true. However, like most other things, I imagine that this would take from 5-10 years to scale up to this level, and I think that Peak Oil will be biting us in the Ass well before this.

Antoinetta III

Telecommuting is one of those things I think could expand rapidly, since the basics of delivering it are already around. Plus once the balance was tipped firmly in the direction of companies doing this, those individuals companies would all be working to make it happen.

1-2 years to 30% would be a rough guess.

Management distrust to telework is the wall I am up against. Folks around here like to SEE us at our desks. I have asked for "an occasional day or two" per month to work from home, but all I get are cross-eyed looks.

What's so important about having facetime at my job? Dunno. I manage big database-driven web sites. I could live anywhere will a good internet access and do my job. As it is, I work with all out-sourced vendors: I have programmers in other states and one of my graphic designers, looking to make her life more humane, will be moving to a more rural location at the end of August. I'm jealous.

Instead my daily routine in Central Jersey is: Walk (or sometimes drive) to my local NJ Transit train station. Take the train to Newark, switch to the PATH and go to the last stop at the World Trade Center in Manhattan. From there, walk (one mile) downtown to the foot of the Financial District to get to my office. I have the longest and most expensive ($200+ on public transit/monthly) commute of anyone in my organization, yet I'm often one of the first in each day. That's because I need to make the right train connections in order to ensure the shortest commute. As it is, on a good day, I put in three (3) hours round trip. That means I don't have much of a weekday life at home. Especially now, in the summer, when I get back around 7:00pm and spend 7:30pm-dusk taking care of the garden.

I'm guessing I could get all my work done in about 4 hours/day. In the office the rest of the time is often wasted waiting for others, in annoying meetings, etc. I'd love to get up and do concentrated work from 7-11am, then be on call for emergencies.

Oh, sorry. I must be (day)dreaming.

Humm, it seem to me that many on TOD complain about the loss of manufacturing in the USA. Manufacturing jobs can not be telecommuted. Nor can retail sales, medical treatment, energy production/distribution, government services, etc....
It was bad enough when you called somewhere and were told that the person you need to talk to works flex time and comes in at 4 am and goes home at noon and you are calling at 1:30 pm. So you call to talk to someone and are told "they are telecommuting employees" and you what? Have to call them at home (and maybe get their kids?) and then find that they are not the right person and you have to call someone else - Or worse you have to communicate with them via e-mail or the web or something? Darn it, I am the customer - Businesses are supposed to serve my needs and schedule - not the other way around.
There are some jobs that might be suitable today for telecommuting, but very few I think. Businesses and offices developed because they needed to interface with the outside world in real time as a company/team.
Post peak oil running a small business from home may work, but my guess is that 50% to 80% or more of the jobs that could be telecommuted will not exist. The "Information Industry" will be one of the biggest casualty areas post peak oil.
I guess I would like to see a list of specific jobs that would exist post peak and could be telecommuted.

John...mabye you've benn out of the work field for some time; there's more ways than ever to get a hold of a telecommuter, and few use their home phone. First of all there's email and voicemail; secondly, calls are routed thru servers where they go to a database; customers can easily get service and calls returned; the customer never knows where you're working from; the flow is seemless. The hold up for the customer is the same as it's always been, regardless of location: more work than staff. Ask to see a telecommuter setup sometime and you'll find it works extremely well, and the employer saves on the Real Estate space. If you know your employees, this works well.

Not so fast!

Humm, it seem to me that many on TOD complain about the loss of manufacturing in the USA. Manufacturing jobs can not be telecommuted. Nor can retail sales, medical treatment, energy production/distribution, government services, etc....

I guess if someone needs to be physically transported into a hospital for surgery, or raw materials need to be delivered to a manufacturing plant than telecommuting won't work for that. Or installing infrastructure for a power distribution grid for that matter.

We do operate rovers on Mars don't we?

So I guess at least some manufacturing can be done remotely, CADCAM anyone? As for retail sales,we already have online e-commerce sites with live chat and warm customer service reps. Medical treatment? I can conceive of some aspects of it being quite similar to e-commerce, maybe with the right monitors and instruments built into future telecommunications devices some of that might be done by telepresence as well. As for energy production/distribution, government services, etc.... I think the same will apply.

I strongly suspect that we could do a lot more things with networked technology and communications than we do now. Anyone ever hear of Smartdust? I could imagine logging onto a hydroponics network and being able to tend to my plants by reading strategically placed micro sensors and deploying very precise doses of pesticides or nutrients.

As a real life example during the course of my normal workday today I did work on computer systems in the UK, Australia, South Africa, Shanghai and then I had to get into my car and drive 80 miles round trip in heavy rain to visit a local customer. Fortunately I find myself having to do less less of that. The travel time in my opinion was time very poorly spent. I could have been Kayaking for two hours instead.

I agree.

I've worked as a consulting engineer on Business Processes in many companies around the world, and I support the finding in the article above that about 40% of jobs would be amenable to Telework. Sure, shop floor work at a manufacturing plant is in the other 60%, but that's no reason to deny that the concept would be useful to a vast number of workers, and would provide many social benefits.

Customer Service jobs are actually some of the best for Telework, because they usually interface via telecommunications already. If the customer is getting the run-around because staff are "on Telework", then that's the fault of the planning of the Customer Service unit. - More than likely the same company would also run a chaotic central office, with lots of: "that's not my department" and "she's away from her desk at the moment". Properly planned Telework can enhance rather than hinder Customer Service.

This is very true. I mean, if the person helping me with my computer here in Melbourne can do it from Mumbai 10,000km away, I don't know why another 30km from the office to their home should make any difference to their quality of work. Presumably the boss wants to look over their workers' shoulders to justify his "supervisor" position :)

I understand some of your concerns, however I think this solution does have a good number of useful applications, including a number of hands-on jobs. I represent two or three myself. I am a freelancer, ostensibly a filmmaker/videographer, but also a builder of exhibits and displays. In both cases, I'll get a call or an email, and whether it's a production or a display item, I'll have a design period that may include face-to-face meetings, but will also invariably involve emailing (nee, faxing) designs, scripts and schedules which will be developed at home, as well as building and filming items from these plans in my shop, or editing material and sharing video files online for review, in many cases. The amount of travel is diminished massively by the breadth of communications technology. While my examples are quite specific, there are a number of directions they can and do reach into.

Like you, however, I would be interested to see a real review of what aspects of the "Non-discretionary side of the Workforce" would apply. I think tele-education is a particularly useful extension of this idea, as well as the opportunities for Senior Citizens and People with Disabilities to work. I'm also looking at the angle of 'hybrid-career paths', where a farmer might 'telecommute' as a teacher when not out in the fields, or something like that.. part-time telecommuting.. or Single-moms being able to work when there's no access to (telecommuting?) childcare providers.

In addition, my greatest interest in making this seem truly stable in its potential would be to have a couple parallel paths of information available, so that there would be quick alternatives ready for system traffic-jams and outages.. Dialup and Satellite.. Packet Radio etc..


During WWII both Germany and Japan used home based manufacturing of airplane parts. The air forces of these countries were not defeated because they ran out of airplanes. It was the loss of experienced pilots which did them in. The fire bombings of Dresden and Tokyo were justified because of home based manufacturing.
On another note I would expect that electric utilities would be the first industry to implement electric vehicles in a big way. Who else could tap into high voltage lines close to where the work needs to be done?

Um, Dresden was bombed because it was a "transport node", not an aviation-industry target.

The main target in Tokyo was people and paper houses, although the presence of light industry was used as a propaganda justification. In fact a lot of the Japanese aircraft industry had been dispersed to underground tunnels in the countryside etc. by the time that the firebombing began. (Robert J McNamara planned the firebombing as a junior staff officer, and has many interesting recollections in "The Fog of War.")

One more potentially near-fatal holdback, and I don't see how it could possibly have escaped notice: if the job can truly be done from a distance, well then, a place like Bangalore is certainly at a distance (from the homes of most who post here) and it's really cheap to hire someone there. Should telecommuting ever really break out of its niche, it might simply emigrate, leaving behind mainly the non-telecommutable jobs or parts of jobs. So it might be unwise to rush out and spend the gas or train-fare money just yet.

I'm sure that some kinds of work can be done more cheaply by telecommuting from Bangalore and it might well be that there is a niche market that can be satisfied in this way. I would be the last person in the world to begrudge the Bangalorese their right to earn such a living. However, and I have no hard data to support my hunch, I don't think that everything will always default to the lowest bidder. I think it ultimately will be a combination of cost, productivity, hard skills and people skills. I could be wrong but I don't think the good citizens of Bangalore will be able to fill all the available niches. Just because a job can be done from practically anywhere, it doesn't follow that practically anyone can do the job.

I think it ultimately will be a combination of cost, productivity, hard skills and people skills.

That is very funny. Good one. Trust me the only thing management look at is $$$.
They couldn't give a rat's behind if the issues with quality or communication loom large in 2-3 years as long as the next quarter is cool.

I would give our Indian offshore team a 20% hit rate - 80% of them are chancers, probably bought their 'degrees' and have 10+ companies on their 2 year old CVs. Crap.

'Trust me the only thing management look at is $$$.'

No. It's still always a balancing act, and while some managers are cheap, or sacrifice quality for price, others have to get the job done right, and may even at the other end of the spectrum, throw too much money at a problem assuming that will solve it.

But believe it or not, there are also a lot of people who are out there trying to do a good job, one that they can be proud of.

I've seen that happen plenty, and still happens plenty at the company I am at. However, I've seen a number of examples where companies have moved to outsource things such as tech support and received such extreme pushback from customers that after the contract with the outsourced company expired, they moved operations back to the US where people spoke "American." Sure, these guys speak English as well as an urban dweller who might "ax" you a question, but combined with an accent thicker than maple syrup in the winter, it does nothing but piss customers off.

Myself, if I reach one of these people at a call center, if I have a hard time understanding them, I don't bother wasting my time, and tell them to transfer me to someone who speaks English. (Let me say, they hate hearing that, but I don't pay to talk to people who can't understand me or visa versa.)

I basically agree with John Kutz.

I can see some scope for increased teleworking here in Australia but I'm not sure that it could take in 40% of employment. Certainly, a great many things require a person's physical presence. I live in a resource town - nobody here can log on and go to the virtual alumina plant and virtual smelter and produce virtual aluminium.

I also can't see it being safe from sabotage - a major fibre optics cable was accidently severed here last week, resulting in large parts of the state losing internet service.

And over in WA a gas junction blew up causing smelting to be shut down.

That's what happens when you put everything in One Big Facility, if it breaks then a heap of work stops. This has nothing to do with whether it's teleworking or not.

What's your point Kiashu?

It's got everything to do with teleworking - as far as I'm aware, it runs on one big, integrated system. If that goes down, so does the teleworking.

I already said I can see increased scope for teleworking in Oz, I'm just not sure it could make up close to half the workforce, that's all.

I take it you don't deny that peak oil wil likely see us forcibly reduce our dependence on imported commodity. If half the workforce is tapping away at a computer all day (not for a minute suggesting that there is anything wrong with IT work) then who will physically do the doing that will provide us with what we need?

I can see telework potentially expanding in this country - but I am doubtfull of 40%. That's all.

At the end of the month I'll be moving back to Boston from Los Angeles in large part because of peak oil. Los Angeles is obviously not ready for peak oil. Boston has some of the best public transportation in the country. Luckily my bosses are letting me telecommute, but I know they don't really want isolated people spread out all over the place.
So I'm going to take advantage to it while it lasts, but I'm not counting on it. You have to make sure you have a plan B. Getting a fresh gig as a telecommuter can't be easy.

I've had work that partially involved telecommuting starting back in 1998. This week I've "worked" on engineering stuff in Wyoming and Illinois. I bet if I started checking I'd find systems that would respond to me in Iowa, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Oregon, and Hawaii, too.

The Stranded Wind Initiative is also a pure telecommuter operation - a few hours ago I was on a call from here in Massachusetts with our marketing guy in Tucson, an engineer in Buffalo, and our project manager in Omaha. Oh, and perhaps of interest to those who've watched our progress - we just got seed money to plan an electric powered anhydrous ammonia facility in the Buffalo region that'll be based on a plan we've published previously. I get the feeling that remote work is going to be expanding for this group, too ...

Good to see that the SWI (sounds almost like a Pentagon plan. Maybe it should be. :D) is still moving forwards!

I used to drive to work, but I had an unfortunate habit of being an early arrival at horrendous road accidents.

Since I've switched to bicycle+train commuting and telecommuting, I haven't seen any dead bodies in cars or bleeding people crawling out of them.

That's a real plus.


Partial tele-commuting is better than none at all. If you can stay home just one day a week that helps.

I travel around the country giving presentations to small groups about a technical product. We sometimes conduct these presentations over the internet. So far it is moderately successful. We use Adobe Breeze which I'm not very satisfied with. It seems very slow. I've tested a combination of iChat and Screen Sharing which were much faster, at least in one test. If this pans out I can cut out at least one airplane trip a month.

I think that management has to get the idea that to be successful in a sales or demonstration situation we need larger monitors, better speakers, faster internet connections. If we're limping along with 3 frames per second updates and a lousy speaker phone the customer won't be very impressed. Although I'll say I've been impressed with how tolerant people are of bad AV systems. However, once a competitor starts doing it right we'll be forced to catch up. We can't conduct serious technical communication in a 640x480 window. We need full screen resolution at 15 fps, at least.

Try Webex. It works great.

Thanks very much for this telework primer on TOD. This item is almost always the first conservation measure on Matt Simmons' list. Yet it did not have the attention it now rightly gets. I bought Jack Nilles' book in 1977 and try to practice his insights ever since. The thing I came across in all that time is that we will need to transform our "third space": the public & private spaces between the home and the employer's work places. You can build experimental telework friendly, passive solar housing estates (as we did in Holland), but what appears to be really driving telework is not its work-at-home part, but its mobile work part. What makes the difference are the mobile networks, the growing number of wifi hotspots and the increasing (iPhone) gadgets that can be used on them. This makes it possible to postpone or avoid the either/or decision between work at home or at the employer's place. This development may even spur photovoltaic usage, as wireless telework will lead to smaller and energy thriftier devices, which in turn bring the devices within reach of PV options. Anyway, could I just add that October 9th 2008 will be the first national telework day in the Netherlands, with this (still Dutch only) website:

Telework is only a niche market. Those lucky enough to be able to do it should.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the US only became great because of its profligate use of free oil, mainly for cars, transportation and frivolous usage.

I once read an obscure mention of the enormous number of people directly or indirectly employed as a result of automobiles. Lets include air lines and all diesel powered transportation.

My guess would be about 50% of the US is employed by "oil". If every body stayed home to work there would be no economy.

I would stick my neck out a bit further and say that all this information technology is mostly relevant to an economy shuffling finances and credit, not actually doing or making anything.

Once we start down the slippery slope of no more free energy we have a different ball game.

This week I think TOD postulated that a human takes 11.5 years to do the work equivalent to a barrel of oil.

The teleworkers will still be at home but staring at blank screens.

There seem to be several hidden "costs" to telecommuting that are not addressed in the article:

From the first "Pro":

save Americans $40 billion at the pumps

Any reduced out of pocket expense shrinks the economy by causing less money to move.

Higher productivity among teleworkers will increase GDP...
Reduce attrition...
Increases productivity...
Expands the talent pool...
Slows the brain drain due to retiring Boomers...

All of these items increase the work force and therefore push wages down. Lower wages decrease spending and shrinks the economy.

Any reduction in oil expenditures, which promptly go overseas, keeps money moving at home. A dollar spent here moves several times as opposed to one promptly transfered to a sovereign wealth fund. I disagree with your conclusion ...

First, that dollar spent at the gas pump also moves several times before it leaves the country. From employer to worker to gas station to shipper to refiner. And from most of those some of the money peels back off into the economy in the form of wages. Certainly a large portion eventually leaves the country and is removed from the economy. I am not saying that is a good thing.

Second, that doesn't address the downward pressure on wages caused by increasing the available supply of labor that was prominent in my post.

Finally, since my point was that the original article failed to take into account the unintended economic consequences of telework, I fail to see how you disagree with that by actually presenting an economic argument. I would love to telework and could easily do so if my employer were amenable. But telework is not going to be an economic panacea.

Hi all,
my family relocated to a rural location in mid 1970's, and my dad, a watchmaker, managed to 'telework'.
Watches and clocks were sent from cities ~ 200 miles away by post for fixing.
However, the arrival of the digital watch and then a months-long postal strike wiped us out :(
So understandably my dad is sceptical about this whole peak thing.. ;)


Are there any reliable stats that would put a number to this potential worker placement program? Would it need to be mandatory? Or regulated?

Think of all the lunch time street vendors who will lose 40% or more of their customer base. McDonalds, Subway, Starbucks, etc would take a big hit. Telecommuting though could be the salvation of the suburbs which so many doomers predict. The burbs are where people live and work so why commute between burbs every day.
As for the economic impact of telecommuting the money not spent on fuel will be spent somewhere else. Americans are noted for their refusal to let money burn a hole in their pocket. No matter how much more we earn or find a place to cut an expense we always stay stuck living pay check to direct deposited paycheck. Telecommuting only changes where the money is spent and will have little if any impact on GDP.

Think of all the lunch time street vendors who will lose 40% or more of their customer base.

That's very true! After all, people never leave their homes to go to restaurants, and they certainly never go for takeout or home delivery.


McDonalds, Subway, Starbucks, etc would take a big hit.

You're describing this as a bad thing?