How Telecommuting Helps the Environment

By Dawn S. Onley Apr 29, 2015
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Several large companies are reducing their environmental footprint and reaping significant benefits by allowing a sizable percentage of their workforce to telecommute.

The telecommuting policies of Dell, Aetna and Xerox cumulatively saved 95,294 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions last year, which is the equivalent of taking 20,000 passenger vehicles off of the road, according to FlexJobs, an online service for professionals seeking telecommuting, freelance and other flexible jobs. It examined the benefits in recognition of Earth Day, which was April 22.

The three companies also reduced paper usage, consolidated buildings—reducing consumption of resources such as electricity and heating oil—and reported more ease hiring and retaining top talent. The employees, in turn, have benefited from improved job satisfaction, lower commuting costs and a better work/life balance.

It’s a win-win.

‘Part of Our DNA’

“The cost-savings to both employers and employees tend to dominate discussions around telecommuting and flexible work benefits, but the positive impact flexible work arrangements have on the environment is equally compelling,” said Sara Sutton Fell, founder and CEO of FlexJobs.

Dell has more than 100,000 employees worldwide, a fifth of whom work from home as part of the company’s Connected Workplace program. Thousands of other employees work occasionally from home, coffee shops or hotels, said Cheryl Prahl, vice president for the Operations & Client Solutions, where she is responsible for directing Dell’s HR strategy.

“Working flexibly is now part of our DNA at Dell,” Prahl said. “Team members work directly with their managers to come up with a fit that works for them, their role and their customers.”

Not all jobs—such as those at call centers and in manufacturing—are eligible for flexible work. However, eligible employees can choose from seven flexible work plans, including work-from-home and part-time work arrangements, variable daily work times, and job sharing. Employees routinely give the telework strategy high reviews during the annual team member survey in the areas of engagement and job satisfaction, and exhibit a stronger tendency to recommend Dell as a great place to work.

The same is true at Aetna. Aetna has had a telework program for the past 20 years, and nearly half of its 48,000 employees—43 percent—take part in it. Susan Millerick, director of internal communications, said the policy has been useful in retaining valuable employees.

“Aetna’s telework initiative began as an effort to consolidate office space, but the timing coincided with environmental concerns for many people and for Aetna as a corporate citizen,” Millerick said. “In 2014 alone, teleworkers reduced Aetna’s carbon footprint by preventing 127 million miles of driving, saving 5.3 million gallons of gas and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 46,700 metric tons.”

Out of the large companies interviewed, Xerox has been offering telework options the longest. Starting with data-entry jobs more than 30 years ago, Xerox would hand-deliver key-punch machines to employees’ homes to help them perform their jobs remotely.

Today, more than 8,000 employees work from home full time in a wide range of positions, including software programmers, systems developers and finance directors. Thousands of other employees worldwide work remotely some of the time.

The benefits to employees and to the company are numerous, said Diane O’Connor, Xerox’s vice president, Global Environment, Health, Safety & Sustainability.

“For the employees: lower commuting costs, more control of their work environment and a better work/life balance,” O’Connor said, adding that the benefits to the company “help us reach and retain qualified and talented employees who play a key role in ensuring the well-being of all our stakeholders, from our customers and operations to our communities.”

Annually, Xerox teleworkers drive 92 million fewer miles, saving 4.6 million gallons of gas, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 41,000 metric tons and saving over $10 million.

“Good for Xerox, good for our employees and good for our world,” O’Connor said.

Dawn S. Onley is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.

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