Survey: Even With $4 Gas, Demand for Telework Unmet

Even as gas prices hit historic highs in the U.S., most workers can't telecommute, according to a new survey released by advocacy group Telework Exchange.

Even as gas prices hit historic highs in the U.S., most residents can't telecommute, according to a new survey released by advocacy group Telework Exchange.


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Nearly all of the respondents in a recent survey by Telework Exchange expressed an interest in telecommuting and 92 percent said they believed their jobs could be done from home. But only 39 percent of the respondents, culled from 377 registrants of the Telework Exchange website, said they were able to telework at least part time.

"Telework Exchange registrants (both government and private-sector employees) do have a clear interest in telework," Cindy Auten, Telework Exchange's general manager, said in an e-mail. "We find that this is an accurate sample of the full population."

Even with people in much of the U.S. paying $4 a gallon or more for gas, telecommuting seems to be facing an uphill battle. Telework Exchange has pushed for more telework options for U.S. government workers, but a survey released in March by CDW-G found only 17 percent of federal employees telecommuting.

Surveys have shown that management resistance to telework remains a barrier, Auten said. "What we found was that as managers become exposed to/involved in telework, their approval of the operating practice improves significantly," she added. "Encouraging managers to telework is a critical step to achieving overall agency telework adoption. Further, agencies must educate and train management on telework drivers and benefits."

Thirty-eight percent of the survey's respondents said they they're willing to pay any amount for gas. More than eight in 10 respondents said they rely on their vehicles to get to work, with only 13 percent using car pooling and 10 percent using public transportation.

However, 78 percent of survey respondents said they were making lifestyle changes because of high gas prices. More than seven in 10 said they were limiting car trips or consolidating errands. Another 62 percent said they were spending less in general on other things and 53 percent said they were eating out less often.

An average U.S. resident spends $2,052 a year for gas to commute, and spends 264 hours on the road, according to the survey.

"I think that we are seeing a tipping point for people to start looking for other alternatives to commuting," Auten said.

A law passed by Congress in 2000 requires federal agencies to create plans where eligible employees "may participate in telecommuting to the maximum extent possible without diminished employee performance."

Telework supporters say that such plans would have several benefits. It would keep more drivers off clogged roads in the Washington, D.C., area, and it would decrease air pollution, supporters say.

Asked how employees can convince their managers to allow telecommuting, Auten offered several suggestions.

Workers can point to online tools, including Telework Exchange's Online Eligibility Gizmo and its Telework Value Calculators, she said. The gizmo is a quiz that helps workers determine their eligibility to telecommute and the calculators show the costs of regular commuting.

"Telework Exchange recommends using the calculators and printing out the findings to present a business case for telework to management," Auten said.

Employees may also have to prove to managers that they can remain productive, she added. "It is also important that employees focus on measurable outcomes to demonstrate continued or increased productivity," she said. "It is also helpful to use project schedules, key milestones, regular status reports, and team reviews."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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