Is Telecommuting Bad for Business?

Blogging is just about the most portable job in the world. All you need is a computer with internet to read and write and a phone to make occasional calls. But really, that makes it like a lot of jobs. With email, instant messaging, document sharing and cell phones, connectivity isn't an office perk, it's a cinch at home too. As a result, telecommuting is on the rise, and one report estimates that by the next presidential election, "nearly 75 percent of the U.S. workforce will be mobile." So why is this guy writing in The Big Money saying that's a bad thing?

Jonathan Weber is the CEO of a media company that covers business in the Rocky Mountain area, and he has some not-so-nice things to say about the telecommuting revolution. In short, it complicates communications, ruins company camaraderie and is generally a major drag for managers trying to create an office environment. He writes:

For starters, all the telecommunications tools and document-sharing systems in the world are no substitute for the simple act of walking over to someone's desk and pointing to something on a screen or asking a question. It's almost always quicker than any technological alternative, and there's little room for confusion.


I think Weber's right that it's obviously nicer to look people in the face rather than get to know them by looking at that amoebic-like conference call machine, and of course office camaraderie is important when it comes to retaining talented people, but couldn't he at least grapple with some of the real benefits of telecommuting? From the employer side, it can save office space, utilities and overhead for employee services. From the employee side, it allows parents to spend more time with their family, it allows them to stay in the city where they raised their kids and not uproot their families for a new job and it cuts down on increasingly expensive travel given the rising price of gas and public transportation.

Finally consider the environmental cost of commuting. More telecommuting doesn't just elimate the costs of those individual working from home, it also reduces traffic which cuts down on all drivers' trips and the corresponding gas costs to both drivers and the environment. This graph of US commuting times indicates that in major cities like Chicago, New York and LA, average commutes can climb to almost an hour. Weber is right that telecommuting will have an impact on office culture, but it's important to balance that with an understanding of the negative externalities of commutes, as well.