Telecommuting's Powerful Benefits
While it may not be for everyone, the future of telework appears bright.
Telecommuting proponents (including me) often tout telecommuting's ability to help companies keep workers on the job during natural disasters. Backers of the Telework Enhancement Act, for example, talked up the Office of Personnel Management's finding that limited teleworking during snowstorms that forced the federal government to shut down for four days in February saved taxpayers $30 million a day.
Yet, as a Computerworld story highlights, natural disasters can also prevent folks from working at home. Companies employ backup generators, fuel supplies and facilities to keep their data centers up and running during disasters. That's obviously not true for most telecommuters. (My not-so-sophisticated backup system involves packing up my laptop and making a trip to my in-laws, who live in another state 25 miles away and fortunately usually get their power restored long before we do at our house during outages.)
The story cites data from Eaton Corp., a power-management company that has been tracking power outages nationally since 2008 and compiles what it calls a "Blackout Tracker" based on information pulled from news stories and personal accounts of severe weather. According to Eaton spokesman Mike Decamp, there were an average of 236 power outages a month in the United States in 2009, but that number has grown to 273 a month through July of this year. Weather-related outages increased from about 77 a month in 2009 to 99 a month this year, with other outages caused by aging power infrastructures and other factors.
In the Washington, D.C., metro area, where the federal government hopes to increase the numbers of employees working regularly from home, there were multiple storm-related outages in July and two in August, during which from 98,000 to nearly 300,000 Potomac Electric Power Co. (Pepco) customers lost power. According to the Public Service Commission of Maryland, there have also been "complaints of frequent and apparently inexplicable outages occurring outside of storm events."
The American Enterprise Institute for Policy Research recently published a thorough piece on the benefits of telecommuting as well as challenges associated with it.