Is Telecommuting a Good Way to Go Green?

By Thursday Bram on 4 April 2010 0 comments
Photo: dmbaker

Telecommuting may sounds like a practical option only for big corporations, but with the advent of web-based software and other tools, a small businesses can easily allow many employees to telecommute. Anyone who spends all day at a computer can do it — you may be surprised at who may also be able to work from home. There are some savings that go along with a small business allowing employees to telecommute, but it also offers an opportunity to go green.

Telecommuting as an Option

Jason Webb set up his law firm with telecommuting in mind. From the start, he's seen not only a decreased carbon footprint, but an improvement in his employees' ability to juggle both work and home. Throughout the law firm, telecommuting has increased productivity as well as decreased operating costs. In particular, Webb's costs for IT have gone down: by using existing web applications like Backroom Management, Google Apps and Egnyte, he's been able to pay a low per month charge, rather than having to invest in an expensive server and software licenses up front. Furthermore, these online tools don't require Webb to call in help if something goes wrong. Having employees telecommute has made Webb's work easier:

My practice often has serious and severe deadlines that my clients often let go to the last moment. Because my team can access their tools anywhere, I can call them to get a project done no matter where they are and it is easy for them to hop on the internet and make it happen. Also, when we are behind, some of my secretaries can work in the evening after they put their kids to bed. Some of the most productive hours for them are around midnight with no distractions at all. Also, because I can access all of my tools on my Droid, I can work at any time. I am more responsive to clients and am able to take advantage of those little wasted moments when I am on errands or at home.

While Webb's employees have been generally positive about the idea of telecommuting, their reactions have been varied.

They love it and use it to different degrees. For some it is a convenient opportunity that they use here and there. For others it is the primary way that they work.

This sort of telecommuting arrangement makes for a much greener business: Webb's employees spend significantly less time on the road and need less gas, often improving morale. He also has less of a need for energy to keep the lights on throughout his office or control the temperature of the office when nobody's actually there.

Telecommuting as a Necessity

Danny Wong's company, Blank Label, started out in an incubation space at Babson College. Now, though, his team is split between California, Massachusetts, and Shanghai. Being spread over three very different time zones has offered a few challenges to Blank Label, but Wong and his team have built a solid dynamic that allows them to benefit from their various locations:

We get along great without needing to see each other on a frequent basis. It does get complicated when we need to have a last-minute/urgent call, especially with one partner being in Shanghai. But this is the best thing for the business right now.

It doesn't hurt that the company doesn't need to pay for an office space and employees don't have any expenses related to getting to work every day. Blank Label has minimal costs to offset those savings, according to Wong.

We pay a small fee to use OoVoo's 4 way video conference service. But that's a very small monthly fee. We use many free programs for e-collaboration, so we luckily don't have more costs working this way.

For many businesses, it's practical to have an employee outside the main office as a matter of course. If nothing else, having an overseas employee who telecommutes makes getting someone in place for an international meeting that much easier. There are other benefits, such as the ability to respond at any hour of the day that can lead to telecommuting as a necessity. Why have an employee work the graveyard shift, running office equipment around the clock, when you simply find an employee willing to telecommute who is based in another time zone? You can save on energy costs and there simply isn't any cost for an employee's transportation to and from work.

Working from a home business exclusively can be significantly greener than part-time telecommuting as well. There's no need to duplicate equipment, such as computers and printers, in both an office and at home, for instance. Reducing infrastructure can be just as important a part of going green as reducing energy usage, and since the business is reducing upfront costs, replacing them only with small monthly fees, telecommuting can be a financially sound decision as well.

When Telecommuting Is Not an Option

There are some businesses where telecommuting just won't make sense for most employees: a mechanic's shop just won't function if the mechanics don't come in to work. It's still worth looking at the tools that can be used for telecommuting; many can help your business go a little greener, even while you're in the office. Web-based applications, for instance, can allow you to use smaller computers for your business, both reducing your power needs and saving you money. You may also find that certain parts of your company can still telecommute, even if not everyone can be away from the office all day, every day.

You may also find that telecommuting is a matter of preference for your employees. Some may simply prefer to come into the office a few days a week so that they can interact with you and other employees. It's important to talk through the idea of telecommuting with your employees to make sure that they'll be able to handle their jobs just as well out of the office as they do in it.

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