A twist on telecommuting

Derek Thompson from The Atlantic picked up a post I wrote a couple of years ago, entitled “13 arguments for telecommuting“, in an article which proposes a twist on the idea: a 4-day workweek. The State of Utah switched to just such a program a year ago for its government employees, and the results are in: everyone loves it.

I wouldn’t have minded a 4-day workweek back when I did the 9 to 5 thing, but thankfully my boss let me shift my working hours. I’d come in at 11 am and leave at 7 pm, which meant I got to avoid most of the DC rush hour traffic.

Of course, it’s even better than all of this when you can telecommute entirely. That would truly save money for both employers and employees.


Ways in which companies waste money and energy

I want to focus in on a few specific ways in which companies waste money and energy. I see the following things happen daily in the workplace. They’re not specific to any company. Chances are that if you visit any American company, they’re probably doing at least one of these things.

Lights are left on regardless of time or day, and whether or not there are people present in the room

Many people will turn on their lights during the day, even if they have an office window that lets in plenty of light. That makes no sense. Want to know what else doesn’t make sense? Walk around at night in a big city. Look at how many businesses have left their lights on. Now look through the windows (it’s easy to do with skyscrapers) and see if you can see any people in there. Chances are you won’t. Those big offices are empty, and the lights are fully lit. What for? Don’t tell me it’s to discourage theft, because it doesn’t work. Having the lights turned off and making the thief use some sort of light to see his way around is a much better way to discourage theft.

Utility bills are doubled and tripled by leaving lights on at night, and yet that sort of expense is just shrugged off as a given. Well, it shouldn’t be that way. It’s wrong. And no, using CFLs doesn’t really count. They reduce electricity consumption dramatically, yes, but that doesn’t excuse you from turning lights off when you leave the office.

Computers are left on at night and when not being used

This one bothers me a lot. As a past IT director, I know computers consume a lot of electricity, and I also know that most people don’t need to leave their computers on when they leave their office. Short of server rooms, which need to stay on all the time, and selected desktops (used mostly in IT departments) that need to stay on because they’re being accessed remotely, most computers can be safely turned off or put into standby or hibernation at the end of the day. Do people do it? No.

Each desktop system consumes anywhere from 200-500 Watts of power (or more) while turned on, not counting the displays, which vary from 50-200 Watts (or more). IT departments should institute group policies (it’s doable in Windows) that automatically put computers into standby or hibernation if they’re idle and not used. Just think of the energy savings that could be obtained! By the way, Macs come pre-programmed to do just that, so they will give you energy savings right out of the box.

No recycling program in place

Most businesses will have a document shredding services, but they’ll have no recycling containers on site for aluminum, glass or plastic products. They’ll trash them and pollute the landfills, when they could be easily recycled and re-used. What’s more, they miss an important opportunity to set a good example for their employees.

No equipment recycling policies

Related to the overall recycling program, companies usually do not have any arrangements in place to recycle their used computer equipment. When computers and other equipment reach the end of their usable lifespan, they most likely get trashed, not properly recycled through businesses that specialize in this sort of thing. Some companies donate their computers to non-profit organizations that re-use them, which is laudable, but those are few and far between.

Do we really want old circuit boards which contain toxic chemicals polluting landfills everywhere and seeping into our water supply?

Not enough telecommuters

It’s true that a lot of jobs can’t be done via telecommuting. But many of them can be done that way. Programming, web development and design, project management, accounting, etc. are only some of the jobs that can be done from home, if things are planned out correctly. There are many benefits to be reaped by both companies and employees when telecommuting policies are worked out. One of them is cost reductions, for both parties, and another is less pollution on the environment.

Read this article I wrote on telecommuting for the details. Here are just a few of the benefits that can be observed right away:

  • Reduced office space
  • Reduced utility costs
  • Less crowded roads
  • Less stress
  • Higher job satisfaction
  • Less expenses for employees
  • More family time

I’m sure there are more items for this list. If you know of any, please let me know in the comments.


13 arguments for telecommuting

I thought I’d put together this list of arguments you could use to make the case for telecommuting at your workplace. No, there’s nothing special about the number 13. That’s how many reasons I came up with. If you know of more, please let me know and I’ll be glad to publish them here.

First, I should say I’m all for telecommuting, and I think it’s unfair to make people come into work when most jobs — in particular tech jobs — can be readily converted (with little or no effort) to allow employees to work from their homes.

Reduced office space

Leased office space can be less (significantly less) when employees are allowed to telecommute, since most people won’t need dedicated offices at company headquarters. All that’s needed are offices for the employees that need to be there: phone operators, receptionists, facilities, help desk, and meeting rooms. You’ll need the latter because employees will probably need to come in for meetings or other tasks that need to be performed on-site once a week or every two weeks. In addition, sales folks may need to come in to meet with clients, etc. An unexpected benefit will be that you’ll actually be using the conference rooms a lot more than before. Management will be happy, since the space they’re paying for will be well utilized.

Reduced business utilities

Utilities and other bills, like communications, will be much, much less. With most of the workforce staying at home, and much less office space, electricity usage will be slashed. None of those things that really rack up the bills, like A/C, computers and lights will be anywhere near their previous figures. People will use IM and video conferencing tools (like Skype) to communicate with each other, and will use home phones when needed. You’ll be able to ditch expensive phone system, or scale them down significantly.

Less crowding during rush hour

Businesses that allow their employees to telecommute are doing a greater good. They’re directly contributing to solving today’s serious traffic problems. When employees don’t need to come into work, they stay home and their cars stay in the garage, not on the streets, clogging up avenues and highways, causing traffic delays and accidents. Let’s not also forget the added benefits of burning up less fossil fuels.

Less pollution

When cars stay in the garage, there’s less pollution. I’m not just talking about greenhouse gases, I’m talking about traffic noise as well. Those of you who live near busy streets know this.

Contribute to national security efforts

Businesses that allow employees to telecommute are indirectly contributing to the safety of our country, by reducing our dependence on foreign oil. The less gas employees burn driving to work, the less gas that we’ll need to purchase from countries that finance terrorism. That’s always a good thing. And police and fire trucks will have an easier time driving on our streets during rush hour with less cars on the roads.

Less stress for everyone

I don’t know about you but traffic is very stressful. Sitting in traffic, knowing you can’t go anywhere and you’re stuck there, sandwiched in between other cars, puts one in a very helpless mood. Don’t even get me started on how much time is wasted on commutes, because that’s completely ridiculous and unnecessary. And let’s not forget the people who are actually trying to go shopping or must make it to an event during rush hour. They’re stuck in there too, and they’re not going to work.

Higher job satisfaction

Wasted time makes productive people unhappy. Time and energy gets wasted in traffic. Hence, allowing employees to work from home makes them happy. It’s logical, isn’t it? Besides, I don’t need to analyze things to know that if I could sit at my computer in the morning, right after having breakfast, and get right to work, instead of having to find clothes, get in the car, waste my time on the road, get out of the car and settle in my office, I’d be a lot happier. Why go through all that when I’ve got everything I need right at home?

Less expenses for employees

What do we spend on gas every month? C’mon, add it up! I spend about $100, but I’m one of the luckier ones, because I only have a 25 mile round-trip commute. I’m sure other people spend more. And we’re not even counting the wear and tear on our cars. And how would we value the time we waste in traffic, time that could be spent working productively? I suppose we could calculate our hourly rate, then come up with a total for the time wasted on the road.

Less expenses per employee (business-wise)

Managers, count up the costs to get an employee in a chair at your place. Add in furniture, supplies and equipment (and make sure to include the computer as well). Well, now slash all those costs by about 70%. Happier? An employee that works from home won’t need an office, won’t need a phone, won’t need a desk or a chair or a bookcase or a filing cabinet or even a computer. Okay, there might be some leeway with the computer. You could let them sign out company equipment if you desire, or sponsor the whole or part of the cost of a computer, considering that they’ll use it for work now in addition to their home chores. And you might need to supply them with work-related software as well. But think about it, all of the other costs will go away. When employees come in, they can use terminals set up in the conference rooms, or bring their own laptops. And they’ll use common desks set up near conference rooms to do work that needs to be done at work, not dedicated offices.

Improved management practices

When employees telecommute, work becomes objective and goal-oriented for everyone. It has to, in order for telecommuting to work. Employees get treated as adults instead of babies that need to be micromanaged. Clear monthly and weekly objectives get set, and employees produce status reports or track their objectives online. When tracking is enabled, it’s easy to see who performs and who doesn’t perform. Non-performers can be let go. This is efficient management. Employees are enabled to do what they need to do, and the good ones will go out there and do it.

More family time

Those of you who are married or have significant others, let me ask you this: if you had two hours a day, extra, would you spend them in traffic, or would you spend them with the person you love? That’s an easy answer, right? So okay, you don’t have a spouse. Wouldn’t you rather pursue a hobby or read a book rather than waste your time in traffic?

Safety, safety, safety

People without time constraints are more laid back when they drive. When you work from home, you don’t need to rush into work. This means we’ll have less aggressive drivers on the streets, and our lifestyles will be more relaxed on the whole. Businesses who allow their employees to telecommute are indirectly decreasing the number of accidents and costly traffic tickets.

No more workplace annoyances

This may be more of a pet peeve of mine than anyone else’s, but I’d rather use the bathroom at home than the one at work. I don’t want to go to the bathroom and see (or smell) someone else in there. Why? Because people are disgusting. I want to be able to relax, at home, in my own bathroom, where I’m not in danger of contracting other people’s germs or be subjected to other people’s gross bathroom habits. I’m sure there are plenty of things that annoy you about your own workplace or co-workers, so we probably don’t need to get started down that path. Well, wouldn’t you be happier if you could see less of those annoying people, and only deal with them through email, from time to time? I thought so.

Hope this helps you make the case for telecommuting at your own workplace. Or, that it helps business managers realize the value of this wonderful practice, which is a fantastic way to attract motivated and valuable employees to one’s organization.


Personal beliefs can pit healthcare workers against patients and colleagues has an article which details the pitfalls that await patients and healthcare workers when personal beliefs intersect with medical care. Some state laws are widening this intersection as well. The article offers potential solutions to the problem.

How To

How to get a job right out of college

A quick note: I wrote this article for back in 2000. That site no longer exists, but the article does, and I updated it to keep it current.

So you’re about to graduate and you’re starting to fret because you don’t have a job lined up. If going back to live with your parents seems like a bad idea, then you’d better do your homework. “Yeah, but where do I start?” you ask. Right here and now would be alright…

Use what you already have
First, don’t dismiss the resources that your college or grad school has to offer. Any good school ought to have a Career Services office, a place that will at least help you get an entry-level job if not more. My college, Middlebury, had just such a place. Of course, I never used it because I was too cool for it. Then I paid the price in crappy jobs. That was the first lesson I learned: use every opportunity to your advantage.

Networking (no, not the computer kind)
The least I could have done with my summers was to research internship opportunities. A few months during the summer (when you have nothing better to do anyway) will pay off big later on if you do a good job. Not only do you get to network and make important contacts, these people may actually hand you a job if they like you. And the whole thing is pretty much a no-brainer. You go to work, you, do a good job, then get a real job.

I knew better than to pass up internship opportunities while I was studying for my Master’s. (Besides, they’re pretty much required.) I interned with a local health plan, and while I didn’t get a job out of it, I learned an awful lot about how to function in such an institution. I also got a consulting gig with them when my internship was over. I designed and implemented a Physician Profiling application for them. They were even willing to put up with me while I was still learning my way through programming in Access. The whole thing turned out great in the end, and it persuaded me to go into computer consulting as freelancer, which is what I’m doing now.

Get started
Second, check out the job search sites. There are so many of them these days, you’re bound to find jobs that you like. If you’re looking for entry-level jobs, here’s what you’ve got:, College Grad Job Hunter, CareerGuidance, and CareerBuilder. The list probably goes on, but this should get you started in your search for that elusive “real” job that will pay your rent and food.

Note: While in 2000 some job sites used to specialize in entry-level jobs, most good job sites these days will list both entry-level and regular jobs.

Serious play
Now, if you’re like me and you didn’t let those summers go to waste but worked instead, you may be ready for some grown-up jobs. While the competition will definitely heat up, the crop of available jobs and the pay for those jobs definitely looks better. CareerBuilder is a big site with lots of jobs. Another really good site is Monster.

CareerXpress is a site that will distribute your resume to employers and headhunters for a fee. CareerJet is another site that collects job listings from multiple job sites and makes them available to you for easy searching. Do your research though. Find more sites if you’re interested in this. Make sure exactly how the service works, or you might get ripped off.

For that special-ized job?
Discover Me is an interesting service, because it claims to match your personality with that of top performers in a specific job. If you’re in healthcare and you’re despairing because there are no sites specific to your needs, here’s one: HireHealth. They’ve got jobs about everything related to healthcare.

Or perhaps you went abroad for a semester or two, and fell in love with that country. Europe has that kind of power, I know. Maybe you want to go back there and work. Hey, it’s possible to have your cake and eat it too. Check out these two sites and make your dreams come true: Planet Recruit and Datum Online, which list international jobs. And who says you can’t reach for the sky: 6FigureJobs is just the place to go for those of us that like to think large.

If you’re in technology, you’re in luck. Those sites really abound, and the jobs are plentiful (or were, before 2000). The good thing is that computers make the world go ’round these days, so there will always be a demand for good IT people. Here are some sites for us lucky ones: Dice, ITclassifieds, Techies, Jobs, and Positionwatch.

Try the past, you may be surprised
Have you tried newspaper classifieds? Some of you may be wondering what they are, and I’ll tell you. They’re a good way to find local jobs, so give them a shot.

Final thoughts
Network, but don’t be sleazy. Be nice to everyone you meet, you never know when they can help. And be sure to help when you can. Don’t keep count, just be helpful. At your job, be professional. Leave the playing around to the goofs who will never be promoted. Do your job and perform above expectations. Never burn any bridges if you can help it. It will come back to haunt you, believe me.