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Commentary | VOICES / A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY ISSUES

Telecommuting Can Put You in the Driver's Seat

October 04, 2003|Jack M. Nilles | Jack M. Nilles, former director of interdisciplinary program development at USC, is president of a management consulting firm.

Every year around this time, I and fellow telecommuters have a "gloat op." The trigger is the annual Urban Mobility Study by the Texas Transportation Institute, released this week. The Los Angeles area gets first prize: L.A. commuters spend more time stuck in traffic than those anywhere else in the U.S.

The institute's figures for 2001 indicate that the average commuter who wends her way to and from work during congested hours spends 83% more time on the road than she would during "free-flow" hours. Free-flow hours are the ones when you can drive from point A to point B entirely at speed limit. Like from 2 to 3 a.m. Sundays.

To put this in perspective, do the math. Suppose you live in the Los Angeles region and your home is 16 miles from work. Suppose two-thirds of that distance is on freeways. You could then drive to work in a little more than 19 minutes during free-flow hours (eight minutes to go four miles at 30 mph, 11-plus minutes to go 12 miles at 65 mph). More likely it's taking you about 35 minutes each way, according to institute findings. The congestion penalty is almost 16 minutes each way. If you commute 220 days annually, that amounts to half an hour daily times 220 days, or at least 110 hours staring at taillights and inhaling exhaust.

Supposedly that congestion "bonus" is productive time for some people. You can see it for yourself. Look at other drivers when you're stuck in traffic. They're phoning clients, doing their nails, eating breakfast, reading the paper. So why am I gloating? Because for the last 14 years I have worked full time at home, and for a decade or more before that, part time at home. I have escaped the commute. Not only do I avoid those 110 hours annually in traffic jams, I also avoid the 139 hours annually of possible free-flow commuting. I have freed up more than six work weeks of my time every year. A good part of that time goes toward increased productivity and job satisfaction.

And I am not alone. According to the International Telework Assn. & Council, more than 28 million Americans are teleworking now, up from 17 million in 2001. The problem is that not everyone is able to telework. This traffic-avoiding activity is generally confined to information or knowledge workers, three-fifths of the U.S. workforce. But only about one-quarter of the workforce is teleworking now, so there is plenty of room for expansion.

The next time you find yourself stuck in traffic, think about what it is that you do when you finally get to work. Do you really need to be at that spot to get the work done? If not, think about kicking the traffic habit.

Give the other drivers some room to move.

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