Telecommuting: How to Save the World in Your Pajamas

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Published on November 18th, 2009  |  Discuss This Article  

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I’ve talked a lot about biking as a great alternative to driving to work, but there is another option that may be a little less daunting: telecommuting.

If you regularly drive to work, telecommuting can save thousands of pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere and save you a bundle of money to boot.

I only live 3.5 miles from my office. But I found that, with driving costs and a hefty parking fee, I’d have to pay more than $3,300 a year to drive to work. (Calculate your own commuting costs here.) On top of that, my little Toyota Corolla would release more than 1,350 pounds of carbon.

If someone who lives just 10 miles from their office and has free parking were to work from home just one day a week, she could save approximately $265 and 0.3 tons of carbon a year.

Think those are some pretty good reasons to give it a try? I do too, so I’ve asked for some advice from those who telecommute on a regular basis.

On Convincing Your Boss:

The first step in making telecommuting a reality is to make sure your employer is OK with it. And unless your company has a telework program, that may mean doing some convincing.

According to Quint Careers, one key strategy is to focus on the benefits telecommuting will have for your employer, not for you. You may love that telecommuting will allow you to be there when your kids get home from school, but focus on how it would be better for them: that you’d be more productive, spend more time on projects, etc.

On Creating a Workspace:

Designating a workspace is essential, according to Katie Kemple, communications manager for EconomyStory.org.

“My husband and I both work from home and even though our house is small (975 sq ft), we’ve still found spots to claim as our own,” she says. “Mine’s the corner of our den. To make it an ‘office,’ I purchased a rolling laptop table, wall pockets, magazine holders and a file box – all for about $100.”

On Blending Home and Work Life:

For Chrissy Schwinn, the Conservancy’s director of international policy and climate communications, telecommuting out of her house in Berkeley, Ca., isn’t much of a choice – the office she reports into is 3,000 miles away.

Having been a telecommuter for the last five years and working with two small kids in the house, she knows that telecommuting “blends home and work life in odd and sometimes entertaining/mortifying ways.”

Chrissy bravely shares a few of her most recent experiences, both good and bad:

  • Had a 4-year-old show up on a video conference and ask me how to spell “love.”
  • Started conference calls with Europe at 6:30 a.m. and worked through the day to end with calls to Asia Pacific at 6:30 p.m.
  • Held a meeting with visiting work colleagues on the back deck in the sun.
  • Cut out in the middle of the day to catch my son’s Halloween parade, and finished my “workday” after he’d gone to bed
  • Can often go until mid-afternoon without a single interruption — no water cooler, no “drop bys” at my desk.
  • Started a conference call in pajamas and finished it fully dressed.

Her advice? “Learning to live in this fuzzy area between work and home life is crucial to succeeding as a telecommuter.”

On Other Benefits

Misty Herrin, associate director of strategic communications at the Conservancy and a longtime telecommuter, has a laundry list of other benefits of working from home:

  • Eating better and saving money by eating at home;
  • Spending a lot less money on work attire and having it last longer;
  • Being able to gain momentum on big projects by ignoring the phone and email;
  • No water cooler gossip!
  • Fewer days out sick; it’s a lot easier to brave a work day when you don’t have to deal with a commute or risk spreading germs to others.

Not Just for Your Daily Routine

Telecommuting can also be a huge money, time and carbon saver when it comes to conferences. Many organizations are using video conferencing technology in lieu of having people fly to one central location.

Since May, Jonathan Hoekstra, managing director of the Conservancy’s climate change team, has used video technology in place of making about 10 cross-country trips and one trip to Australia. By attending remotely, Jonathan estimates about $10,000 in savings in just six months.

While I enjoy biking to the office and some of the perks of working here (free coffee, printer access and a landline phone), I have a feeling staying in my house is going to look pretty tempting when winter sets in.

(Image credit: Paladin27/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.)

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Comments: Telecommuting: How to Save the World in Your Pajamas

  •  Comment from Amanda Reynolds

    This is a really nice article showing the realities of telecommuting and the pros and cons that go with it. Obviously the massive saving in carbon is a fanastic achievment and hopefully more businesses and individuals will start taking this line. Even small changes such as using video communication for meetings instead of travelling will make a large difference to the amount of carbon we produce for those of us who have to work in an office. However, with technology advancing the way it is and the realities of paperless offices and knowledge-based workers hopefully we will all be working from home soon!

  •  Comment from Mary Kaiser

    As someone who has worked from a home office for 13 years while building a family of 4 children, the critical thing for me is to designate “office hours.” Otherwise, you’re on call for work all day. Drawing of lines helps you find the balance. You can still make exceptions for conference calls with folks in other time zones and such, but your colleagues and family learn to respect the office hours and the fact that you are not always available to everyone at every moment of the day.

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