Working from home – The cost (or savings) of the commute

Working from home has lots of benefits that could never be measured, but it has some that absolutely can!

Before I started working from home I was driving 45 miles each way, 5 days a week. That means I was traveling 90 miles every day, 450 miles/week, or about 21,600 miles/year just between home and work.

The car I was driving when I finished my last job got almost exactly 30 miles/gallon (not bad for a V6 Buick Century) meaning I was using 15 gallons of gas every week adding up to about 720 gallons of gas in a year.

With gas prices consistently over $2/gallon that 720 gallons of gas would cost me at least $1,500/year. Now, mind you, we’re not even counting oil changes and the cost of the vehicle itself.

The commute was taking me about 45 minutes each way (sadly this isn’t the longest commute I’ve ever had.) That adds up to 7.5 hours/week or 360 hours/year. (Yes, for those of you keeping track, that’s 15 days.)

My commute was a bit long, but in 2003 the US Census Bureau reported that an average daily commute to work lasted about 24.3 minutes. That still adds up to 194.4 hours or 8.1 days per year.

I don’t know how much an impact 21,600 miles of travel has on the roads and public services, but I’d file it under “not insignificant.” Why there aren’t government incentives for employers allowing telecommuting I do not understand. Perhaps with increased realizations about global warming and our economy’s dependence on oil the government and employers will finally take notice of the economies of telecommuting.

Food for thought: If an employee can telecommute one day each week they will reduce their commuting cost and impact by 20%.

Working from home – Have healthy snacks around

Working from home is great. You’re not a slave to the snack machine whenever you get the munchies, but you are likely to chow down on whatever is in the house when hunger hits, so my working from home advice for the day is to have healthy snacks around no matter how expensive they are.

My current preference is for flavored pretzels. They’re far from the cheapest thing in the store, but anything is better than paying a dollar for a one ounce bag of chips! Buy the healthy snacks that you like, otherwise you’ll always be reaching for those old grease-laden standbys.

home office, office, telework, work, telecommute

Working from home – Buy a nice chair

A nice chairAbout three months ago I started working as a remote Oracle database consultant, remote meaning I now work from home most weeks. Though I’m still fairly new to telecommuting it’s something that has always interested me.

In the few short months I’ve been working from home I’ve found that I am amazingly productive, but also that there are a few things I couldn’t do it without. Mileage will vary of course, but I wanted to write about some of the things I’ve found most helpful when working from home and one of the most important of these is a really good chair.

I’ve found being comfortable helps me work longer without loosing focus and the office chair is the most essential part of that. Working at the couch works for me for half days, but long stretches lead to neck and upper back problems. I even knew a woman at a previous job who got a pinched nerve from working with her laptop on her couch too much. When I need a change of scenery I’ll move to the couch, but I work at least half of every day from my desk chair.

I found a nice fabric covered Morrill chair at Staples but it’s essential to test-drive your own and choose the best one for you. I tried dozens of chairs before settling on this one.

I’d say plan to spend up to $350 on a good chair. It’s likely you’ll find one for less (mine was on sale for $129, regularly $179) but this is one thing you don’t want to compromise on. Height, padding, back support, arm design and tilt and swivel features should all be considered. If this seems like a lot to spend on a chair, just consider what you’re saving in gas by working from home (in my case no less than $200/month) and you’ll feel better.

You will also probably want to consider some type of floor protection for under your chair. The plastic mats are good on carpet and a version is also available to protect hardwood floors. After seeing recently what only a couple years of office use can do to even industrial carpets I was glad to have picked up a good mat.

I’ll be writing more about working from home in the near future. If you have tips or questions about working from home feel free to leave a comment.

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Telecommuting Web Resources

With a fairly long commute (45 miles each way) and gas above $3 per gallon I have been doing a little homework on telecommuting, also known as telework.

The Office of Personnel Management and the General Services Administration have some extensive telework resources for federal employees. The site is full of great information including resources for identifying good candidates for telework, maintaining a good working environment when some employees telework and others do not, and evaluating the performance of teleworkers.

More pertinent to higher education, the University of Minnesota has much of their telecommuting policies and agreements available online at this page including a supervisor’s toolkit for implementing telecommuting. They outline the following potential benefits of telecommuting:

• Supports the Clean Air Act/Reduces air pollution
• Reduces traffic congestion, fuel consumption
• Supports the Americans with Disabilities Act
• Provides more job opportunities for the disabled, part-time, and semi-retired
University Units:
• Enhances employee productivity and work quality
• Increases long-term recruiting, retention, and loyalty of employees
• Improves employee morale and job satisfaction
• Increases workforce diversity by widening of labor pool
• Reduces overhead costs, especially in capital investments
• Reduces employee sick leave and absenteeism
• Enhances employer image in partnership with 21st century
• Enables employees to work during weather emergencies
• Enhances job productivity and work quality
• Improves morale and job satisfaction
• Provides greater degree of responsibility
• Provides greater lifestyle flexibility in meeting family and job needs
• Reduces commuting time and stress
• Reduces transportation costs
• Provides satisfaction from greater employer trust

Of course there are more resources out there, but I believe these two are a good starting point for any employer or employee.

While my institution does not recognize telecommuting, well, let’s just say I’ve still been doing a lot of thinking about it. Hey, it’s better than looking for another job…

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