Policy Study

The Quiet Success

Telecommuting's Impact on Transportation and Beyond

Executive Summary

The decision to forego the daily commute and work from home might not seem particularly revolutionary. Yet telecommuting has a positive impact on a surprisingly wide range of issues.

Telecommuting may be the most cost-effective way to reduce rush-hour traffic and it can even improve how a weary nation copes with disasters, from hurricanes to terrorist attacks. It helps improve air quality, highway safety, and even health care as new technology allows top-notch physicians to be (virtually) anywhere. Telecommuting expands opportunities for the handicapped, conserves energy, and-when used as a substitute for offshore outsourcing-it can help allay globalization fears. It can even make companies more profitable, which is good news for our nation’s managers, many of whom have long been suspicious of telecommuting.

Other than driving alone, telecommuting is the only commute mode to gain market share since 1980. The Census Bureau notes that from 1990 to 2000 the number of those who usually worked at home grew by 23 percent, more than twice the rate of growth of the total labor market. Since 2000, telecommuting has continued to grow in popularity. Roughly 4.5 million Americans telecommute most work days, roughly 20 million telecommute for some period at least once per month, and nearly 45 million telecommute at least once per year.

And telecommuters drive less than office workers. During the days they telecommute, workers reduce their daily trips by 27 to 51 percent and driving (vehicle miles traveled) by 53 to 77 percent. Although they effectively receive no public subsidies, telecommuters actually outnumber transit commuters in a majority (27) of the 50 most populous metropolitan areas. Telecommuters outnumber transit commuters in places like San Diego, Dallas, and Phoenix. They outnumber commuters by more than two to one in places like Raleigh- Durham, Tampa-St. Petersburg, and Nashville. In Oklahoma City telecommuters outnumber transit commuters by nearly five to one.

Telecommuters tend to be highly educated and financially well-off. Most of the top telecommuting metropolitan areas tend to be fast-growing regions with high concentrations of technologically savvy workers who feel comfortable using the Internet and other tools common to remote work. Denver, Portland, and San Diego are the top three telecommuting metropolitan areas (as measured by the percentage of workforce that telecommutes). Atlanta and Washington, D.C. lead the nation in telecommuting growth, yet every major metropolitan area has experienced strong growth.

Many strong social trends suggest that telecommuting will become even more prevalent in the future. For example, telecommuting-enabling technology continues to improve, telecommuting-friendly jobs are becoming more prevalent, and workers have shown they enjoy telecommuting. And why not? Telecommuting offers potentially big cumulative time savings. In most of our nation’s large cities, those who telecommute “usually” (three out of five work days) for a year would save five or more calendar days (roughly 15 8-hour work days). New York City commuters would save the most time-nearly 8 days (23 work days) per year.

Yet even with all these benefits, the workplace often resists telecommuting. There are three formidable barriers to increased telecommuting: technology, perception, and public policy.

Slow, complicated, and expensive technology can make telecommuting more trouble than it’s worth. Yet technological barriers are becoming less daunting all the time and as they continue to recede, other barriers become more significant by comparison.

Telecommuting often improves bottom lines and yet managers are slow to embrace the practice. Many still regard telecommuters as low-grade slackers, loafing at home when they should be in the office working.

It is odd that public policy so often hinders telecommuting, particularly since elected officials are some of telecommuting’s most enthusiastic supporters. But, from unfriendly zoning ordinances to frustrating tax laws, political barriers to telecommuting can be found at every level of government. The right reforms can end the disconnect between lawmakers’ kind words and their less than cordial policies.

Technology has done its part to spread it and America’s workers have shown they are open to it. Now it’s up to our leaders in politics and business to allow telecommuting to reach its full potential.

Attachments

Ted Balaker is an award-winning filmmaker, journalist, and founding partner of Korchula Productions, a film and new media production company devoted to making important ideas entertaining.

Ted is the director of Can We Take a Joke?, a Korchula Productions feature documentary about the collision between comedy and outrage culture featuring comedians such as Gilbert Gottfried, Penn Jillette, Jim Norton, Lisa Lampanelli, and Adam Carolla. Ted is producing Little Pink House, a Korchula Productions feature narrative about about Susette Kelo's historic fight to save her beloved home and neighborhood. The film stars two-time Academy Award nominee Catherine Keener (Capote, Being John Malkovich, The 40-Year-Old Virgin) and Emmy nominee Jeanne Tripplehorn (Big Love, The Firm, Basic Instinct).

Ted produced the award-winning shorts The Conversation and Cute Couple. He is an executive producer on the feature documentary Honor Flight, and produced the film's first trailer, which attracted more than 4.5 million views. The Honor Flight premiere attracted an audience of more than 28,000 and set the Guinness World Record for largest film screening in history.

Ted is a founding member of ReasonTV, where he produced hundreds of videos and documentary shorts, including Raiding California, which introduced a nationwide audience to the Charles Lynch medical marijuana case.

Ted is co-creator of The Drew Carey Project, a series of documentary shorts hosted by Drew Carey, and creator of the comedic series Don't Cops Have Better Things to Do? and Nanny of the Month.

His ReasonTV contributions have been featured by The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, Fox News Channel, and on the he John Stossel Special Bailouts and Bull, a first-of-its-kind joint project between ABC News and ReasonTV.

During Ted's tenure, ReasonTV received the Templeton Freedom Award for Innovative Media and in 2008 Businessweek recognized his short Where's My Bailout? (created with Courtney Balaker) as among the best of bailout humor.

Prior to joining Reason, Ted spent five years producing at ABC Network News, producing hour-long specials and 20/20 segments on topics ranging from free speech to addiction.

Ted's written work has appeared in dozens of publications, including The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Reason magazine, The Washington Post, and USA TODAY. He is the author or co-author of 11 studies on topics ranging from urban policy to global trade, and his research has been presented before organizations such as the Mont Pelerin Society and the American Economic Association.

Ted is co-author (with Sam Staley) of the book The Road More Traveled (Rowman & Littlefield, 2006), which Chapman University's Joel Kotkin says "should be required reading, not only for planners and their students, but for anyone who loves cities and wants them to thrive."

Ted has appeared on many radio and television programs, including ABC World News Tonight and the CBS Evening News, and has interviewed hundreds of thinkers and innovators, ranging from X Prize recipient and private spaceflight pioneer Burt Rutan to Templeton Prize-winning biologist and philosopher Francisco Ayala.

Ted graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of California, Irvine with degrees in political science and English.