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A Vote For Working At Home
Mindy Lubber, 7 Aug 07
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The concept of open work is a relatively new one for me. If you had told me 10 years ago that I would be sitting here sending my staff an e-mail, talking on the phone with a colleague, and writing a blog, all from the comfort of my sofa at home—I would have told you that you were crazy. It is apparent that I am now living in a different world: a world where I panic if I leave the house without my Blackberry and see my laptop as an extension of myself. Yet, the silver lining to being connected 24/7 is that it not only enables me to get my work done from anywhere—it also allows me to do my work at a lower cost to the environment.

And it makes me wonder—are we really maximizing the impact that open work can have as a strategy to combat rising energy use, increased greenhouse gas emissions and the overall climate change crisis? In my home state of Massachusetts, more than 3 million people commute by car each day—73 percent of those commuters driving alone. Every year urban commuters in the U.S. waste 2.3 billion gallons of fuel idling in traffic—the equivalent of operating four large-scale power plants.

New emerging technologies have extended, if not dissolved, the boundaries of the corporate office and have forever altered the concept of what it means to be a 9 to 5 employee. The number of corporate employees in the United States open working in 2007 is expected to be 12.4 million, nearly double from five years ago. In the current global economy, we can now easily envision someone joining a business call from the beach in San Diego, a coffee shop in New York, and a corporate boardroom in Tokyo—with open work the flexibility is limitless and corporations around the world are cashing in on the savings.

Sun Microsystems is on the leading edge of this rising trend. Nearly half of the software company’s 40,000 employees work from home whenever possible. The program is allowing Sun to attract and retain the best talent from around the world—while reducing its office space by one sixth. Participants report that their productivity has increased by 34 percent, in part because they have shaved their commuting time by three hours a week. For 2006, the program accomplished the equivalent of removing 6,700 cars from the road and eliminating 18,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions. Since the inception of the program in 2003, the California company has saved $255 million. Now that is real money.

The Center for Biological Diversity is also using open work to its advantage. The environmental group’s headquarters is located in Arizona, yet less than half of their 44 employees actually live in the state. Using open work as a hiring strategy enables the center to hire great talent that may otherwise opt to work elsewhere; many of its lawyers, for example, live in the Bay Area. In a world where funds are tight and the opportunities are endless—open work offers a money saving, low impact solution.

For me, technology still retains its many mysteries and pitfalls – but if it can enable me to get my work done, lower my impact on the environment, and allow me to take in my daughter’s soccer game—I am on board. Even if it does require me to constantly ask my 12-year-old how exactly you go about returning a text message.

Mindy Lubber is president of Ceres, a leading coalition of investors and environmental groups working with companies to address sustainability challenges such as global climate change.

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Comments

If my home looked like that, I would probably work from there as well.

For those who call home a tiny apartment, the separation of home & work is key in maintaining sanity. If I were to work from home 2-3x/week, I'd need to buy a laptop, a printer, a blackberry, and extra internet security. The sustainability benefits of working from home would really only balance for those who commute by car for very significant distances every day, and who may not need a lot of technological office supplies @ home.

But for some, agreed, it does make sense, and it should be encouraged in those situations. Anyone have any success stories on convincing bosses to allow this to be a standard policy?


Posted by: Melanie on 7 Aug 07

One of the other significant benefits of work from home, or setting up a home office, is the social sustainability benefit - Mindy touches on it in that she can make it to her daughter's game, but there's a whole other world of social opportunities that opens up when you're not necessarily tied to the boss 10/5.

Being able to work when the inspiration hits, or witch off when you're just not there means you can work when and how you're most effective - it certainly works for me. And being able to do the weekly chores when shops and offices are open, rather than cramming it into 45 minutes (and a looong queue) at lunch time also means I can spend my time working more effectively, as well as enjoying life. Cause that's what It's actually supposed to be about isn't it????


Posted by: Michael on 7 Aug 07

One of the other significant benefits of work from home, or setting up a home office, is the social sustainability benefit - Mindy touches on it in that she can make it to her daughter's game, but there's a whole other world of social opportunities that opens up when you're not necessarily tied to the boss 10/5.

Being able to work when the inspiration hits, or switch off when you're just not there means you can work when and how you're most effective - it certainly works for me. And being able to do the weekly chores when shops and offices are open, rather than cramming it into 45 minutes (and a looong queue) at lunch time also means I can spend my time working more effectively, as well as enjoying life. Cause that's what It's actually supposed to be about isn't it????


Posted by: Michael on 7 Aug 07

how does one broach the subject with the boss about working from home? I think I could do this 1-2 days a week, but want to know what's required, ie, costs, equipment, etc., before I make the proposal.


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Posted by: MySecrets Marketing on 7 Aug 07

I recently went to work at Mozilla, makers of Firefox, as QA. I had worked at a startup for a year and at Microsoft for most of nine years before that.

With Microsoft, people often did work from home but core office hours were daily at the actual office. The home work was in addition to being at work.

At Mozilla, half of the employees are not local to the company, which is in Mountain View. The whole situation is optimized around including virtual workers. Every meeting has a VOIP phone bridge set up so anyone with the right codes can call into the meeting to participate. Brownbag presentations are all streamed over audio and video. Because of the nature of the work (a browser, an e-mail client and related code, after all), all of our core work, like bug triage, code check-ins, builds, are accessible via the net. We use multiple wikis to keep track of various efforts and projects.

I live an hour away in Oakland so when I came on board we decided to start with a compromise solution: I would work from home a couple of days a week and be in the office the other three. The dynamic of those days is very different. I find myself much more relaxed when working at home and I get work done in a good self-paced way. When I'm in the office, I tend to get a lot more facetime with coworkers and we get a lot more of certain kinds of work done. It can be very different.

The startup job was a 15 minute walk away and I do find myself missing that. If Mozilla was that close (or nearly), I would probably rarely work from home, as much as I like it. Working with people is a lot easier in person at times and there are a lot of things that work much better on an ad-hoc basis in the flesh. That said, the company is pretty solid proof that you can have a substantial virtual organization and be successful.


Posted by: Al Billings on 7 Aug 07

A Vote Against Working From Home

Sure it would be nice to work beside the pool day in and day out, but most people find themselves in a climate where they'd rather spend the workday inside a temperature controlled space. That is, thousands of individual dwellings, each either heating or cooling thousands of square feet of space for usually only one occupant. All this for nine additional hours per day when the usage would normally be reduced while the occupants are at work. Also the thousands of individual coffee makers, tea kettles, toasters...

Consolidated office space makes sense. Heating and cooling only one space, coffee and a bagel from the cafe downstairs, and thousands of dwellings using less energy during the day. The problem of commuting is more of urban planning and lack of public transportation. Teleworking only serves as an excuse to continue with the irresponsible urban sprawl that brought us the energy wasting single-occupant commute to work.


Posted by: Brad on 7 Aug 07

Working at Home could be seen as a solution to a particuliar solution :
When a solid virus is rampaging the streets, we usually close the schools and all that is not vital, ie most of the jobs that involves being sit in front of a computer.
If this is going to take a long time, many could work at home to avoid contact with potentially infected people. Kind of anti-social but it could help.


Posted by: litteuldav on 8 Aug 07

Where's your mousepad? That table doesn't look too practical for your mouse.


Posted by: Mister Nitpick on 9 Aug 07

Mindy's comments reflect some very common misperceptions about the environmental benefits of home working:

- Whether or not encouraging the practice saves employers money and emissions associated with their office buildings, each home worker still has to heat, light and otherwise service their own homes. Home working just means that the company has no opportunity to maximize the efficiency of that activity - and also doesn't pay the bill for it.

- People often don't recognize just how much energy is associated with IT systems. The power used to supply computers, phones, routers, Blackberrys and other connectivity devices contributes 2% of global CO2 emissions. That is equal to the amount contributed by global air travel, and it is growing rapidly.

In a nutshell, while there may be many benefits to remote working, I am not convinced the environment is one of them.


Posted by: Judy on 24 Aug 07



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