October 25, 2014

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Legalizing Telecommuting: Corporate Responsibility or Environmental Compliance?

A new law is coming to the San Francisco Bay Area that will require businesses with over 50 employees to offer commuter benefits, including telecommuting.

Mike_gutman

By Michael Gutman

Part I of III

The Bill SB 1339 will legally require Bay Area employers with over 50 employees to select from a menu of commuter benefits to offer their employees. One of those options is a flexible telecommuting schedule that “will likely include requirements that a certain percent of the employer’s workforce be eligible to telecommute," according to David Burch, Principal Environmental Planner at the The Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD).

To comply with this law, employers have the option to offer employees a free or low cost shuttle service to and from work, allow employees to pay for transit costs with pre-taxed income or offer employees a subsidy to cover or offset their monthly commuting. The fourth option includes offering a flexible telecommuting schedule and is what interests me most.

Are We Overlooking Telecommuting?

Telecommuting has huge social and environmental advantages. I am in charge of overlookingcustomer development for Sqwiggle, a cloud based office application that enables people to work from anywhere. After interviewing many of our customers who telecommute, they report being happier, healthier, spending less money on office infrastructure and significantly less gasoline. These are tangible, accountable benefits that should be documented in all corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports, but often are not.

If CSR is about increasing social and environmental welfare, then telecommuting has been overlooked as a significant way to impact both.

When asking Burch about how telecommuting will help SB 1339 achieve its goal of reduced greenhouse gas emissions, he said, “Employees who telecommute on a regular basis can significantly reduce their commute trips to the worksite. Studies have found that telecommuting can reduce commute trips by as much 40% at employers with comprehensive telecommuting programs.”

That translates into 40% less time spent in a car and a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions caused by commuting to and from work. Talk about serious savings. I have read a number of CSR reports and many do not come close to reducing 40% of pollution in a year in a single measure.

An Easy Win

Offering a telecommuting program for employees is an easy win for CSR programs, especially since there is so much technology that exists to keep employees productive and connected to their teams throughout the day. SB 1339 is playing a great role in helping employers to understand this concept.

For example, Elance is a company that not only allows a telecommuting schedule for its employees, but its businesses model is based on helping employers find and leverage cloud-computingtalent from all over the world. They are big advocates for telecommuting.

I interviewed Elance’s Vice President of Talent and Workplace, Sonia Mathai, to learn more about their stance on Telecommuting and how it relates to CSR.

“In the past, the term telecommuting was in reference to employees working at a location outside of the main office. Now, telecommuting has expanded to an entirely new way of working. It allows work-life balance and provides the employee options with regard to where he or she feels most productive and creative. Companies who offer telecommuting options provide their employees a considerable perk and it demonstrates that they are mindful and empathetic about their employees’ work-life balance. As an added benefit, telecommuters reduce a company’s carbon footprint. It’s a win for everyone.”

Opening the Door for Global Talent

Sonia also mentioned that by allowing telecommuting as an option, they open the door to talent from all around the world, which also supports social welfare.

“What is so rewarding and fulfilling about the type of work we are doing at Elance is that online work creates job opportunities in places where people may not have had access before. For example, we have used our own platform to hire talent in areas that have high unemployment. By being open to working with people online, businesses also benefit by finding talent that they couldn’t find locally. Opportunity can spread very quickly this way.”

Many companies already reap the benefits of offering telecommuting to their employees but many are not reporting it as part of their CSR programs. I think SB 1339 sheds light on this by linking telecommuting to the reduction in greenhouse gases.

If It’s Good for the Employer, Employees & the Environment…Report It

It will be interesting to see how many companies begin to include commuter benefits as part of their CSR reporting and marketing strategy. CSR marketing has been leveraged to differentiate companies from their competitors, but by making commuter benefits mandatory, it evens stuck-in-trafficthe playing field.

In the end, I hope SB 1339 will shed more light on how telecommuting really is a viable form of working for employees, giving people the freedom to work how and where they want without having to spend hours a day stuck in traffic. I think we can agree that these are all good things.

Because of my current position supporting telecommuting at Sqwiggle and my previous position helping companies engage in CSR, I am inherently interested in how telecommuting and CSR exist together.

This is Part I in a three-post series about telecommuting, and CSR and I encourage you to provide your thoughts and feedback. All are welcome.

Stay tuned for more…

To learn more about how Sqwiggle helps people telecommute from anywhere, check out www.Sqwiggle.com. And, leave a comment below, on Facebook or Twitter!

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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