October 24, 2014

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Adding Telecommuting to Your CSR Program: What the Data Tells Us

Including telecommuting into your CSR program must lead to reporting the environmental and social outcomes in your annual report.

Mike_gutman

By Michael Gutman

Part II of III

Why is telecommuting being left out of corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs and reports?

Telecommuting saves people money on gas, cars, office infrastructure and allows people to spend less time commuting and more time doing. At least from a numbers standpoint, it sounds worthy of a fit in your CSR program, doesn’t it?

But telecommuting is also a great way to reduce one’s carbon footprint.

According to David Burch, Principal Environmental Planner at sustainability footprintthe Bay Area Air Quality Management District, “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 as 40 percent at employers with comprehensive telecommuting programs.”

As somewhat of a telecommuting evangelist for Sqwiggle, an app that helps telecommuters and remote teams recreate that office feeling virtually, it is my job to understand how companies view telecommuting. In my search about how companies are including telecommuting into their CSR efforts, I met Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs, who knows a great deal about telecommuting and becoming a green business.

Excerpts:

How does offering telecommuting to employees fit into FlexJobs' overall green values?

“Telecommuting is a greener way to work and our company is committed to promoting environmentally-sustainable practices wherever we can. It's only natural that as a company whose mission is to help people find telecommuting jobs that we'd all telecommute ourselves. With 40 staffers working from home, that's 40 fewer cars on the road consuming gas, causing pollution and contributing to traffic every day. It also equals 80,000 fewer tons of carbon emissions being released into the air annually (based on the average commute distance for Americans).

“And it's one less office building gobbling up electricity, water, construction materials, office supplies, etc. And 40 people who have more control over their impact on the environment every day while they work. Our team sees this as an opportunity to have a direct impact on the environment by being in control of our home offices, our consumption and our sustainable practices."

How did FlexJobs create – and motivate your entire staff – to adopt a "Corporate Environmental Sustainability Vision?"

“Personally, the environment has always been a focus for me. In college at UC Berkeley, I built my own major – Society, Technology, and the Environment, as I’ve always identified a beneficial relationship between the three topics. And as founder and CEO of FlexJobs, I saw a unique opportunity to continue this commitment at the company level.

“So I created our Corporate Environmental Sustainability Vision to put in some framework for what it meant for FlexJobs to be a green company. We came up with a list of action items that our team could agree upon and commit to do in their own home offices. We rounded out our efforts by becoming carbon balanced through TerraPass, to make sure that any environmental impact we couldn't mitigate individually, we could do as a company.”

What FlexJobswas the employees’ response? How was it implemented?

“They were thrilled to participate! We’re a pretty environmentally conscious team and people were happy to come together as a group in this way. Even though we're a remote team, efforts like this help bring us together. We started by having all current staff members sign a pledge stating they would do things like:

  • Use CFL or LED light bulbs in our home offices
  • Use natural light and air whenever possible, and only use heat or AC when necessary
  • Eliminate printing altogether unless absolutely necessary
  • Have an oxygen-filtering house plant in our home offices

“And while we grow our team, we ask each new team member to sign the pledge as part of the onboarding process.”

FlexJobs is also certified by the Green Business Bureau at its highest level of rating, Platinum, as a result of their efforts to become an environmentally friendly company.

While telecommuting has a natural alignment with FlexJobs' mission, however, for most organizations tying telecommuting into CSR efforts is a tough ask. Here then are five ways to integrate telecommuting into your CSR program:

1. Measure as much as you can

Telecommuting is a privilege, not a right. As part of that privilege, employees should be fine with answering a basic survey about telecommuting, especially when it can show how telecommuting helps make the world a better place. A simple survey could ask basic questions like:

  1. On average how many times per week do you telecommute?
  2. If you commute to work, do you drive, carpool or take public transportation?
  3. How many miles is your daily commute to the office?
  4. How much time do you spend on your daily commute to the office?
  5. Are you happy that telecommuting is an option for you?

This will give you some interesting insights for a CSR report.

2. Report your findings

Using the survey above, you can include the following in a CSR report:

  • Number of driving miles reduced per year
  • Pounds of greenhouse gas emissions reduced in a year (based on average vehicle GHG emissions)
  • Number of commuting hours saved in a year
  • Percentage of employees who report being happy because of the company's telecommuting program

These statistics could also be used to show that telecommuting is an environmentally friendly way to promote work/life balance while keeping employees happy. And further down the road, once you have a couple of years of comparable data, you could also connect telecommuting and your company's retention rates, adding further more credibility for the HR department.

3. Engagement

I love FlexJob’s green pledge sheet. I think all telecommuters should sign one. As Sara mentioned, this is a great way to engage your employees. Other ways could be to ask employees to share stories about how spending less time commuting is positively impacting green-checklisttheir life. How do they spend that extra time? Does it build job satisfaction? Is it enough of a factor—especially for parents—to stay with their current employer versus a more lucrative job offer that might not offer telecommuting?

4. Optimize

Once you start to collect statistics on telecommuting, you can begin optimizing the program to see better results. In my search for examples, I have often come across companies who are dissolving their offices so all employees can telecommute from home. This type of office relocation has huge environmental benefits and should be reported.

5. Use the right tools

Telecommuting only works well if employees have the tools necessary to get their jobs done. This often means having collaboration tools for employees to stay focused and on track with their team all day (like Sqwiggle, instant messenger and cloud services).

These are of course the obvious ones. In my next and final post on telecommuting, I will focus on some more tools people are using successfully to leverage the benefits of telecommuting.

Stay tuned.

Got a personal story to share? A recommended tool? Leave a comment below or connect with us on Facebook or Twitter!

Related: Legalizing Telecommuting: Corporate Responsibility or Environmental Compliance?

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

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