Growing Gas Prices Fuel Interest in Telecommuting, Video Conferencing

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I got a pang of nostalgia when reading this interview with a representative of the Telework Consortium from two summers ago. In it, he mentioned that inflated prices at the gas pump were driving an interest in telecommuting. He offered an example:

When gas is priced at $3 per gallon, it would take an employee earning $65,000 per year who commutes 40 miles roundtrip per day more than two months to pay for commuting. That is nine weeks and three days of his/her take-home pay, just to pay for a daily commute.

Quite an effective illustration, I think -- even more so now that $3 a gallon looks like a downright bargain.


So it's no surprise that a growing number of companies are expanding not only their telecommuting programs but also their use of video conferencing technologies. Among the examples cited in a Computerworld article are Procter & Gamble, Canadian Tire Corp. and AstraZeneca.


P&G has cut corporate travel spending by 15 percent over the past year, at least partly because of its use of video conferencing, says an executive. P&G is one of the most prominent users of Cisco's Telepresence, one of the systems I mentioned in a blog from earlier this year. In it, I shared comments from several experts who predicted mainstream adoption of high-end video conferencing (often called telepresence) systems.


More recently, IT Business Edge blogger Carl Weinschenk noted that Cisco and other providers such as Teleris are introducing telepresence systems with lower price points than the system employed by P&G. He mentions a couple in the $30,000 range. They are rolling out more products at the high end of the scale, as well, indicating that there is growing interest in telepresence at companies with varying budgets and business cases. Writes Weinschenk:

Potential users must be able to choose from traditional, low-quality and cheap video conferencing, HD conferencing, and full bells-and-very-expensive-whistles telepresence.

Several companies in the Computerworld article also mention telecommuting. A Canadian Tire Corp. executive says that while telecommuting is "fairly new" for his company, they've had to offer the option to attract employees with specialized skills who prefer not to travel long distances to work.


In my November interview with Marcia Rhodes, head of PR from WorldatWork, she predicted an increase in telecommuting and other programs that are "low-cost but highly valued by employees." Echoing the Canadian Tire exec, she says:

We expect telework programs to grow with the mass availability and affordability of mobile devices coupled with a marked shift in employers' attitudes -- many are beginning to accept that to attract the best talent, they may have to look beyond their borders to other states and even countries. Some of your best workers are going to be virtual workers, there's just no two ways about that!

As I noted last month, telecommuting may hold special appeal for Generation Y workers, more than two-thirds of whom say they want to work for an environmentally responsible company. (That compares to 52 percent of baby boomers, according to results of a recent Harris Interactive survey.) Another striking statistic from that blog: According to the Environmental Protection Agency, $4.5 billion worth of gas would be saved if employees that could feasibly work from their homes did so 1.6 days per week.