Employers shouldn't close door on option for workers to telecommute

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

We aren't whisked to work in flying cars like George Jetson, and we've long given up on strapping on our jetpacks, but some of us -- 4.3 percent do work from home via a computer, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

That trend is no certain thing, with news this week that struggling companies Yahoo and Best Buy have forbidden it, requiring employees to physically show up at their workplaces, even if the work could have been accomplished at home.

It's true that not everyone can work at home -- it's too easy to be distracted by family, pets or soap operas -- but it's not an option that should be dismissed out of hand.

That's especially true in light of gasoline prices that are climbing north of $4 or $5 a gallon.

According to the Census Bureau, about 8.1 percent of U.S. workers drive an hour or longer to get to work, and nearly 600,000 full-time workers had "megacommutes" of at least 90 minutes and 50 miles.

The average one-way daily commute for workers across the country is 25.5 minutes, and one in four commuters leave their county to work.

Many of the mega commuters live in large cities -- New York state showed the highest rate of long commutes at 16.2 percent -- and use public transportation.

That's an option not available in Southwest Nebraska, but an hour commute from McCook will get you to Imperial, Holdrege, into Kansas and some towns along Interstate 80.

Commutes that far, and even as far as Denver, are not unheard of in our area. Given an opportunity to stay at home and work, especially when roads are covered with ice and snow, most of those workers would jump at the chance.

An hour not spent in the car can mean another hour on the job, or another hours in bed, depending on your point of view.

On the other hand, employers worry about less face-time with managers and peers, which can make communication difficult, and worry about productivity when the worker is out of sight.

If the work involves spending time on a computer and telephone -- and what work doesn't today, to one degree or another -- it makes little difference where those devices are located. Add the ability to monitor productivity electronically if needed, and telecommuting continues to be an option that can make sense.

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