With a 25 to 50% increase in gasoline prices in recent memory, it is now becoming more and more apparent that a significant way to save on travel costs for individuals, companies and government agencies is to limit driving to work, customer sites, conferences (well maybe not conferences), and meetings.  Telecommuting has been around since the 1970’s (Telecommuting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telecommuting).  I’m not talking about satellite offices though, although that and anything else you can think of to save travel costs would be great.  I’m speaking to the ability to work from anywhere, especially one’s own home.

Many people I’ve spoken with over the years, from all areas of office work, believe that working in and around co-workers makes you more productive and part of a family.  Some even have the sense that if someone can’t see them work, then maybe no one will know they are getting things done.  On the contrary.  I believe that measurable work will begin to increase without all the distractions of an office environment and senseless meetings, water cooler chatter, “white noise” muzak, fire drills, coffee breaks, parties, arguments, etc.  On top of that, measuring work can now take less effort and make everyone more efficient.  Yes, this could lead to downsizing, smaller office footprints, less waste on equipment costs, utilities, sick time, leave of absence, etc.
Think of all the benefits you could enjoy working from your home office.  Almost like running your own business, you can make those ball games, track meets, dance recitals, orchestra concerts, PTA meetings, and maybe even lunch and dinner.  As for me, I still need to get the vacation time to recharge with the family, and sometimes need time to work around the house to do things you can’t do while focused on work.  But, one can always work a flexible schedule and even focus on delivery of various pieces of work when the time is right such as late afternoon and evening, while mowing at noon.  Everyone can think of things they would rather be doing other than sitting in traffic, driving for 10 minutes to several hours, riding a bus or subway.  It would be a good exercise to just start thinking about it.

Specifically, how do we get there?

That’s the tricky part.  Unless you’ve already done this before, how easy can it be?  Some of the important issues to resolve are how do you do your job, who do you need to interact with and how.  As an example, I can use my own needs.  On a daily basis I always need a computer, internet access, telephone.  If I travel anywhere I need a computer, internet access, telephone.  Notice a common thread yet?  I’ve gotten pretty good at this part, yet there are still many more options that I don’t take advantage of.  I could use a laptop, Wi-Fi, and a cell phone; a desktop computer, hardwired Ethernet, DSL and a landline; or a cable modem, LAN, servers, virtual machines, multifunction printers, Wi-Fi, Ethernet, ip phone, Gmail, Instant messaging, Web Cam, well you get the picture!?  Well, I have what I need to do whatever work I need to do.  If not, I acquire it, it’s pretty simple really.  Just as you can use an umbrella, rain coat, hood or a hat to keep from getting wet when it rains, you can choose what it is you need to do your job.  I’m a software architect and developer.  If I manage a team I need contact via phone, fax, e-mail, shared desktop, video, or sometimes face-to-face.  When I’m writing a proposal, design, code documentation, I don’t really need distractions, just research and a PC.  If I’m writing code, I need MSDN, (not a Java guy, sorry) and possibly a set of Virtual Machines/Servers.  Sometimes I’ll need internet access, Windows Live Messenger for help from my network of peers, and access to pre-built Virtual PC or VMware images.

Over the next several months I’ll update this with costs and cost savings for an average month or year, or any information I can gather.  My motives until recently were to help people to break away from the bonds of the corporate office, but now it seems there is a more fundamental reason for Telecommuting, namely saving our economy if not saving the planet in the process.