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The Puget Sound region of Washington State encompassing Seattle, Tacoma, Bellevue, Everett and Bremerton is one area of North America that is especially ripe for telework. It is plagued by traffic congestion, resulting poor air quality and deaths and injuries from accidents, and has an inadequate rapid transit network whose expansion has been slowed by vocal voter/taxpayer hostility. It faces disasters from earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides and tsunamis.
The transportation and related environmental issues are only going to get worse. The megalopolis’s population is expected to reach 5 million by 2040 from approximately 3.3 million today, the Puget Sound Regional Council, a regional planning organization, said.
On the other hand, the region’s employment base has become office, tech-based, and tech-savvy, whose workers are adept with e-mail, SMS/text, UC/presence and video as well as voice. It is interlaced with robust residential wired and wireless broadband networks though there are gaps. Work at home fits not only technology-wise but in the region’s quality-of-life-oriented culture.
The Cascadia Center which works on regional transportation and sustainable development issues for the Discovery Institute, has taken a strong interest in telework. In a blog, published Oct.14 titled, “More Telework Means Major Savings, Increased Productivity
” Cascadia Senior Fellow Matt Rosenberg, cited nationwide telework benefits via a ‘telework savings calculator’ developed by Kate Lister, principal researcher, the Telework Research Network. Lister estimates 40 percent of the office workforce have jobs that can be done from home, but just over four percent do so nationwide.
Going from that, Lister shared with Rosenberg key nationwide results, per year, if the 40 percent mark were to be reached (ed--for half of each such employee's weekly work hours):
- Oil consumption down by 453 million barrels, representing a national savings of $31 billion per year at $70/barrel on imports
- 84 million fewer tons of greenhouse gases: the equivalent of taking 15 million cars off the road
- The energy potential from the gas savings alone would total more than twice what the United States currently produces from all renewable energy source combined
- National productivity would increase by 6.2 million person-/year to $200 billion worth of work
- Businesses would save $194 billion in real estate, electricity, absenteeism and turnover
- Employees would individually save between $2,500 and $11,000 in transportation and work-related costs. In addition, many would also be able to cut daycare and eldercare costs. Note: these numbers are net of the additional home expenses an employee incurs
- Employees would gain back an extra 2.5 weeks worth of time- time they’d have otherwise spent commuting
- Communities would save over $3 billion in highway maintenance because 180 billion fewer miles would be driven each year
- 150,000 fewer people would be hurt or die from traffic accidents, and $18 billion a year would be saved in accident-related costs
“According to Lister's research, in the Seattle/Tacoma/Bellevue area, 5.05 percent of the workforce telecommuted the majority of the time in 2008 – in 2007, that figure was 4.76 percent,” Goodman said, adding that, if all workers in the region who have jobs that can be done from home telecommuted just half of the time, the region would see the following changes:
- Businesses would collectively save $2.3 billion a year in real estate, electricity, absenteeism and turnover costs
- Productivity would soar, collectively earning our region's businesses $2.4 billion more a year
- Each year, 2,000 people would be spared from traffic-related injury or death. What's more, $215 million a year would be saved in accident-related costs
- Two billion fewer miles would be driven each year. Communities would save more than $36 million a year in highway maintenance costs
- The region would save 5.4 million barrels of oil
- The environment would be spared from 997,000 tons of greenhouse gases a year -- the equivalent of taking 181,000 cars off the road
“The upshot,” Rosenberg said “[Is that] there are billions of dollars in potential benefits from telework being left on the table in the Seattle region alone.”
Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.