Millions of Americans telecommute at least one day a week, and the numbers are expected to rise rapidly in the next few years.
But how can companies determine whether the money they invest in laptops, smartphones and other equipment that enable their employees to work remotely is worth it?
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and Mobile Work Exchange, an Alexandria, Va.-based public/private partnership that tries to show the benefit of telework, have come up with a way to help. After a year of study, in January 2014 they issued a white paper with some of the best practices from government agencies for measuring the return on investment (ROI) from providing more mobility and telework options to employees. They also released a free online calculator that companies can use to measure ROI in a variety of areas.
Cindy Auten, general manager at Mobile Work Exchange, said determining ROI on telework and mobility can be challenging for some businesses, but the white paper and online calculator can help guide them through the process. Although OPM and the Mobile Work Exchange contacted government agencies when preparing their white paper, Auten pointed out that private businesses, too, can benefit from the advice and online tool.
“We are really excited to have this available,” she said. “I think it's important for any business or agency that wants to think about doing telecommuting."
The white paper assessed good ways to measure ROI in eight categories: commuting costs, transportation subsidies, environmental impact, continuity of operations, productivity, recruitment/retention, real estate and utilities.
The General Services Administration has an Excel-based tool that lets users compute and benchmark the cost per person for various workspace, information technology and telecommunications scenarios. The tool also highlights the potential cost savings from allowing telecommuting employees to share desks or work from locations nearer their homes.
Mike Cross, work/life and wellness program manager at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), said the agency was pleased with the results of the OPM/Mobile Work Exchange ROI tool. One of the first things the tool demonstrated is that the USDA’s metrics for measuring telecommuting ROI were “pretty solid,” Cross said.
With more than 100,000 employees, the USDA is one of the largest federal agencies. More than 70 percent of those workers are eligible to work remotely, Cross said. Even before using the online calculator, the agency had data showing a good ROI from allowing workers to telecommute.
For example, the USDA was able to save $2 million in upfront transit-subsidy funding in September 2011 based on its projected telework participation rates.
The agency will use data it gleaned from the online ROI calculator to prove that telework should be expanded, Cross said.
About the calculator, she added: “It is pretty quick and easy. The only challenge for managers is having good data. If they don't have good data collection, they can't use the ROI tool as well as they should.”
Greg Wright is a Baltimore-based freelance writer who has covered Congress, consumer electronics and international trade for major news organizations, including Gannett News Service/USA Today, Dow Jones and Knight-Ridder Financial News.