Telecommuting, e-commuting, e-work, tele-work, working at home (WAH), or working from home (WFH) provide employees flexibility in working location and their hours. This not only saves or reduces commuting, but also helps better accommodate needs such as working mothers with small children or employees with a disabled family member.
For telecommuters, the daily commute to a central place of work is replaced by telecommunication links. Successful telecommuting works best with a management style based on results, and not one that requires close scrutiny of individual employees.
A decade ago, this would have required a quite work area (desk in a room away from family, TV, and fridge), a business phone line and a fax machine & fax line. Today, with many people having fast internet access for their home computers, very little extra is needed.
For visual communications, Videoconferencing software (as simple as Skype's free software for up to 4 connections or like GoToMeeting) makes face to face discussions possible.
With computer sharing software (Microsoft Windows' Remote Desktop Connection, etc) workers can remotely share ideas and collaborate on work even though widely separated. Virtual private networks ("VPNs") can give staff access to secure computer servers and communications, even when widely dispersed.
Virtual private networks, videoconferencing, and Voice over IP ("VoIP") all require broadband Internet to provide enough bandwidth (connection speed) at home to use these tools.
Employees with PDAs like Blackberries or iPhones have become "nomad workers" able to access mobile telecommunications technology from coffee shops or any other locations.
Telework substitutes telecommunications for any work-related travel, so workers can work from anywhere in the world, beyond the usual commuting distances. Good examples are the 1-800 call centres and tech support, done in other parts of the county, or even in another part of the world. All telecommuters are teleworkers but not all teleworkers are telecommuters.
Telecommuting options accommodates increased employability of groups otherwise lost from the workforce, such as mothers and fathers with small children, the disabled, or people living in remote areas.
Telecommuting also reduces weather-related workplace disruption, since workers can work from home when there's a snowstorm, for example. Even on good days, telecommuting reduces travel-related stress.
Telecommuting allows employees to continue working if they are sick (and won't infect their co-workers), or if a family member is ill and requires a day of parental care.
Telecommuting also reduces an individual's carbon footprint, by minimizing daily commuting. By not commuting, teleworkers would gain the equivalent of an extra 5 workweeks (200 hours) of free time each year.
Telework provides improved service hours and international reach, with telecommuters in different time zones (including offshore outsourcing).
Virtual offices allow employers to retain valuable employees, like working mothers, that would otherwise have to be replaced and trained, at significant cost (and disruption).
In the United States, the 1996 Clean Air Act amendments required companies with over 100 employees to encourage car pools, public transportation, shortened workweeks, and telecommuting. In 2004, Congress used and appropriations bill to encourage telecommuting for certain Federal agencies.
A 2008 US study said 33 million Americans have jobs that could be performed at home. Telework could 7.5 billion gallons (28 billion litres) of gasoline each year, reduce Gulf oil imports by 24 to 48%, and reduce greenhouse gases by up to 67 million metric tonnes.
For more information: Telework Coalition