When it comes to telecommuting, most people fall into two camps.
There are those who think it’s a grand idea. They’re called employees.
The employees think life would be great if they could work in their pajamas, or maybe while wearing a T-shirt and shorts. And wouldn’t it be nice to be able to put in a load of laundry while waiting for a client to call you back? Or be able to move the hose in the front yard while you’re waiting for your boss to respond to that report you sent? Heck, you might even be able to see your kids once in awhile.
Then there are those who have reservations about telecommuting. They’re called bosses. If they can’t see you working, are you? You could be just sitting at home doing your best Homer Simpson impersonation. Sure, there are studies showing productivity rises through telecommuting, they say, but that’s not in my line of work.
The tension between the two factions is natural.
"Everyone wants a certain autonomy in their work,’’ said Greg Moorhead, a professor of management and organizational behavior at Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business.
And the managers? "They have a history of success in a different system," he said.
But we could see that attitude melt a bit. Right now we have strong employment growth. And high gas prices.
Gas has been dropping from its $3-plus per gallon high last summer. But usually gas prices bottom out here in January. The average was up almost 4 cents last week. Expect to pay near or above $3 a gallon this summer. Cutting down on the expense of the commute some or all of the time might put some real jingle in an employee’s pocket.
In such a climate, wouldn’t it make sense for an employer in a tight labor market to throw in telecommuting to land employees?
"I think it could be attractive, taken with everything else,’’ Moorhead said.
Of course, telecommuting only works for certain kinds of jobs. If you are a nurse or an elementary school teacher or an auto mechanic, you need to be at the job site.
And even if you are offered the option of telecommuting and try it, you might not stay with it. Patricia Mokhtarian is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at University of California at Davis. She has studied the effects of telecommuting on the transportation system. While she believes it’s likely more employers will offer the option and more employees will try it, most will likely resume regular commuting after a year or two.
Mokhtarian used the analogy of a bucket with a hole in the bottom. "As more employees are poured in, more leak out,’’ she said.
The reasons vary, she said, but it turns out some workers actually like the commute.
"It’s a buffer between home and work,’’ Mokhtarian said. "The car becomes kind of a cocoon for them."