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Telecommuting Employment Increases as Gas Prices Rise

By Jeanette Joy Fisher

It's been growing steadily over the past few years, but the trend toward telecommuting has increased significantly during the dramatic rise in gas prices. With gas hovering at $3.00/gallon, more and more employees are beginning to call in sick or take more time off because of the pinch they're feeling due to the high cost of commuting to work every day.

Recent figures compiled by the International Telework Association and Council illustrate the growing telecommuting trend. Their figures show that some 26 million Americans work from home at least one day every month, and another 22 million do part of their jobs from home a minimum of once a week.

U.S. companies are beginning to sense the cost of employee absence, and they're also beginning to see a trend toward shorter commutes. That may eventually translate into one of a couple outcomes. First, companies may be forced to move their workplaces closer to their potential workforce in able to attract and keep employees in the face of increasing fuel costs. The other alternative would be to begin allowing employees to work from home, whether fulltime or on a part-time basis.

In states that have traditionally seen employees making long commutes, such as California, a 160-mile round trip would cost drivers about $15.00/day in $3.00/gallon gas, assuming they have a reasonably fuel efficient vehicle. An SUV or other gas-guzzling vehicle would send that total much higher. Either way, such a long commute would take a large bite out of an employee's bottom line.

If the trend continues, and there's no reason to believe it won't, America will soon be known as a telecommuter nation, with a majority of workers doing their jobs from home at least one or two days a week. Many employers have begun to see the handwriting on the wall and have begun offering their employees the opportunity to telecommute in order to maintain productivity levels and to retain employees who might leave if the cost of their commute began to adversely affect them substantially enough.

Part of the reason for the growth in telecommuting is the fact that it's becoming more socially acceptable. Where it used to be the rare exception to the rule, it's not unusual at all to hear someone say that they're working from home several days a week. As the concept becomes more widespread, it's likely to pick up even more steam.

Managers used to worry about lack of control over employee productivity, but the years have proven that telecommuters are often more productive than their counterparts in the office. There are few distractions and they often work harder.

Employees are also becoming less likely to devote hours of frustrating commute time to a job. The current trend is toward shorter commutes, or no commute at all. People simply don't want to sit in traffic or drive long distances the way they used to, and eventually companies will need to accommodate employee demands if they want to attract and keep quality people.

Copyright 2006 Jeanette J. Fisher

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