Telework is making the pages of papers of record these days. The Gray Lady is the latest to sing the praises of what is quickly becoming a best practice approach to work in an information economy. The New York Times reports on the rapid rise of remote work:
[T]he typical telecommuter is a 49-year-old college graduate — man or woman — who earns about $58,000 a year and belongs to a company with more than 100 employees, according to numbers culled from the Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey.
And the phenomenon appears to be growing. The annual survey last year by the Society for Human Resource Management found a greater increase in the number of companies planning to offer telecommuting in 2014 than those offering just about any other new benefit.
Also mentioned in the article are the many benefits of telecommuting: the rise in productivity; the ability of businesses to operate during inclement weather; increased employee satisfaction, a result of the improved work-life balance that flexible scheduling provides; the savings companies enjoy by not having to rent out as much office space. The NYT also hits the important caveat necessary to any discussion of telework: employers the need to balance remote work with face-to-face interaction to keep employees feeling connected and accountable.The piece makes a fine case for the advantages of telework, but neglects the bigger picture argument for it. Working remotely doesn’t just save money; it cuts down on emissions by cutting out the worker’s commute (which averages over 25 minutes each way in the United States). There’s a public health component to remote work, as well: studies have shown that commuting wreaks havoc on relationships and mental health, not to mention its positive correlation with obesity. Telework can even have national security implications, enabling government employees to continue working on important projects through natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and other contingencies.From a purely competitive standpoint, internet-enabled telework promises to be the backbone of the next iteration of the global economy, based on the manipulation of data and information rather than the manufacture and sale of stuff. The federal government has already taken steps toward embracing remote work in its agencies with the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act, and a bill is currently wending its way through Congress to encourage further teleconferencing within the government. But there’s more work to be done. Devoting more resources to the development of our infostructure to ensure that more Americans have access to consistent, reasonably-priced, high-speed internet ought to be a priority.