Survey: Even with $4 gas, demand for telework unmet

92% of survey respondents said they'd like to telecommute, but only 39% said they could

Even as gas prices are hitting historic highs in the U.S., most residents can't telecommute, according to the results of a recent survey by advocacy group Telework Exchange.

Nearly all of the respondents in a recent survey by Telework Exchange expressed an interest in telecommuting and 92% said they believed their jobs could be done from home. But only 39% of the respondents, culled from 377 registrants of the Telework Exchange Web site, said they were able to telecommute 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 telecommuting options for U.S. government workers, but a survey released in March by CDW-G found only 17% 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 that 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% using carpooling and 10% using public transportation.

However, 78% 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% said they were spending less in general on other things and 53% said they were eating out less often.

An average U.S. resident pays $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. Among other things, they say, telecommuting would keep more drivers off clogged roads in the Washington area and decrease air pollution.

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 Eligibility Gizmo is a quiz that helps people determine whether they're eligible to telecommute and the calculators tally the potential cost savings and environmental benefits associated with telework.

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

Employees may 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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