Amid nationwide shelter-in-place orders during the pandemic, businesses and organizations have significantly changed their operations, including implementing telework policies at an unprecedented scale. Adoption of telework measures have shown to have economic, equity and environmental benefits for organizations, employees and local governments.
A recent survey by Global Workplace Analytics found 77% of office-based workers are now working from home five days a week, compared to only 9% before the start of the pandemic. Nearly 75 million U.S. employees (56% of the workforce) could work from home, up from 5 million (3.6%) who worked from home at least half-time in 2018.
Along with this economic shift, increased telework has also been instrumental in the fight against climate change. Although not all VMTs avoided during this period are directly tied to telecommuting policies, researchers at the UC Davis Road Ecology Center found that, after California’s statewide stay-at-home order in March and mid-April, total vehicle miles traveled fell by 75%, with a corresponding drop in pollution levels.
Good for Business
Telework can boost productivity, improve performance and reduce absenteeism. Teleworkers are an average of 35-40% more productive than their office counterparts, and have measured an output increase of at least 4.4%. With stronger autonomy via location independence workers produce results with 40% fewer quality defects. Because workers are more engaged, absenteeism is also down 41%.
More than one-half of employees (54%) say they would change jobs for one that offered them more flexibility, which results in an average of 12% turnover reduction after a remote work agreement is offered.
“Many workers view telecommuting as a job perk, with more than half seeking the arrangement as a way to improve work-life balance. People choose to work remotely to avoid daily commutes, reduce workplace distractions and fulfill family-care responsibilities,” Laurel Farrer writes in Forbes.
“Employers can hire geographically distributed talent and reduce overhead expenses, while employees can gain flexibility, save time, and reduce transportation and some child-care costs,” according to the American Psychological Association.
Telework can also help the bottom line. Global Workplace Analytics estimates that organizations save an average of $11,000 per year per part-time telecommute, or 21% higher profitability as a result of savings in real estate, absenteeism, turnover and increased productivity. Telecommuting can help reduce the capital drain of owning or leasing a building, while also saving on parking-lot leases, furniture, supplies, maintenance, security, janitorial, insurance, taxes, common area and other related costs as well as reduce compliance costs.
Benefits for Employees
Telework is a win-win for businesses and their employees. Due to reduced cost for travel, parking and food, employees could expect to save between $2,500 and $4,000 a year by teleworking at least half the time. Some insurance companies also offer special telecommuter rates saving as much as 15%, reports Matthew Sims in autoinsurance.org.
Workers save time as well as money. By reducing their commute driving by 75%, the half time teleworker saves the equivalent of 11 work days per year.
By significantly reducing driving time, teleworkers are also less at-risk of being in a traffic accident and have less exposure to harmful pollutants, pathogens and stress that could lead to a multitude of related illnesses.
Telework can also help achieve social-equity goals.If jobs are less dependent on location, a greater diversity of individuals could have access to job opportunities, bolstering a more equitable distribution of wealth, according to Global Workplace Analytics. Telework jobs also offer better employment options to rural workers (in locations with access to broadband connectivity).
Embedding Telework in Everyday Operations
Brookings Institute research shows that one step to reduce congestion, deliver a safer and greener transportation system, and still bring the economy back to full capacity is demand management, allowing employees to work from home more often, and with more flexible work schedules where possible. The researchers also recommend implementing VMT fees to account for the losses in gas-tax revenues (from less driving), promoting public transit, and redesigning streets for more sustainable uses like walking and biking to promote active transportation and dissuade citizens from using their cars as their primary means of transportation.
Economists recommend directing post-recovery spending on embedding climate positive behaviors, by supporting teleworking, high-speed broadband connectivity and residential energy efficiency.
“The COVID-19 crisis has encouraged a rapid shift to digital and remote working practices in many countries (WHO, 2020) and reduced aviation (UNICAO, 2020) and car transportation (IMF, 2020b),” said Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz.
“If leaders take the right steps – encouraging telework, altering revenue structures, and retrofitting roadways – the nation can emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic with a stronger and safer transportation outlook. It’s now up to society to remake itself in the image it wants,” concluded Brookings Institute researchers. “Employers will need to rethink their telecommuting practices, government officials will need to accelerate adoption of new revenue sources, and entire communities must be willing to redesign their roads for greener and more flexible uses.
Government Support to Advance Telework
Telework policies can help fulfill a range of local-government goals, from infrastructure and climate-change impacts to improved health outcomes. Decentralized labor and reduced commutes associated with telework reduces strain on public infrastructure. Between December 1, 2019, and March 31, 2020, there was a 30-40% drop in VMT in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, according to Institute of Transportation Engineers data.
U.N. data shows there has also been a 5.5 to 5.7 fall in CO2 emissions due to the pandemic. Continuing VMT-reducing telework policies would also help maintain the reductions in GHG emissions and harmful pollutants (SO2, O3, NO2, CO and PM 10) that we’ve seen during the pandemic.
We would prevent almost 95,000 traffic-related injuries and deaths, and save more than $11 billion a year in related costs by shifting the 50 million Americans with compatible jobs and a desire to work from home at least part of the time to half-time telework.
A number of states and cities have recognized the benefits of telecommuting and have provided assistance for private-sector initiatives that benefit both employers and employees.
In Virginia, businesses that promote telecommuting can get up to $50,000 in tax credits for spending at most $1,200 in telework expenses for each employee. Meanwhile in Washington, Senate Bill 6016 has been introduced to give businesses up to $250 in tax credits for each remote employee who telecommutes at least 12 days per month, with a maximum credit of $10,000 per year.
Georgia’s Commuters Choice tax benefits program offers financial incentives to both employers and employees for using alternative commute modes, such as carpooling, cleaner transportation vehicles or teleworking. The state also hosts an annual Georgia Telework Week, which includes cash prizes and financial incentives to promote telecommuting and other sustainable commute options.
Some policymakers are betting on programs that tap digital technologies to entice skilled workers to relocate. In 2018, the Governor of Vermont enacted the Remote Workers Grant to attract full-time remote workers to the State by offering a variety of incentives, including up to $10,000 in relocation expenses. In Oklahoma,– the George Kaiser Family Foundation paying telecommuters $10,000 to relocate to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in addition to providing a housing stipend and coworking membership.
Making It Work for Everybody
Given the severe economic hardship and budget constraints facing government, businesses and families across the nation, we need creative solutions to bring back jobs in ways that support our equally urgent social-equity and climate-resilience imperatives. Advancing telework policies and incentives can increase employee satisfaction and productivity, reduce costs for employers and local governments, and offer a myriad of social equity, public health, air quality and climate benefits – a rare win-win-win strategy that we’ve already proved capable of advancing.
- Special Report 3: Impact of COVID19 Mitigation on Traffic, Fuel-Use and Climate Change
- 5 Proven Benefits of Remote Work for Companies
- Telecommuting Statistics
- Coronavirus has shown us a world without traffic. Can we sustain it?
- California Remote Work Resources
- Remote Work States: 7 Locations That Incentivize Telecommuting
- One way to help restaurants in the future? Go alfresco by opening roads and lots to diners
- How Smaller Cities are Trying to Plug America’s Brain Drain