Striking a Balance

As noted by Wendell Cox, commuting and congestion have a large economic cost. Time spent behind the wheel, slowed by traffic, is time that could otherwise be put to more productive economic pursuits. Commuting and congestion also have social costs. Every minute lost trapped in snarled traffic is time that might have been spent with family, friends, relaxing, or getting involved in community building activities. Commuting can also lead to elevated stress levels, with studies showing finding that “greater exposure to congestion is related to elevated psycho-physiological stress among automobile commuters.”

One proposed solution to the challenges presented by commuting and congestion is an enhanced embrace of telecommuting. Proponents argue that businesses looking to increase productivity, burnish their “green” credibility and reduce fuel use, and allow workers to strike a better balance between life and work should offer employees the option to work from home. Whatever the motivation, it does appear that there has been a rise in the adoption of telecommuting. According to varying estimates, somewhere between 20 and 35 million individuals telecommute occasionally. Numbers appear to be on the rise, with projections showing up to 63 million workers will be making use of some form of telecommuting by 2016.

As businesses increase their adoption of telecommuting, they may also want to provide workers with increased schedule flexibility. A recent study conducted by BYU finds that workers given the option to make use of telecommuting and flex-scheduling had a much higher “breaking point” at which family life and work begin to interfere with one another. According to the study, “for office workers on a regular schedule, the breaking point was 38 hours per week. Given a flexible schedule and the option to telecommute, employees were able to clock 57 hours per week before experiencing such conflict.” As the study points out, this added flexibility allows workers to potentially make use of the equivalent of an “Extra Day or Two” in each work week, adding to productivity. According to the lead researcher, E. Jeffery Hill, the use of flexible scheduling can also contribute to greater worker satisfaction and morale. In challenging economic times the promise of increased worker productivity, improved worker happiness, and potential cost savings realized through reduced office space and facilities should be an attractive spur to increased corporate adoption of telecommuting.