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Monday, November 26, 2007

Telecommuting, again

Yes, I know, I've blogged about this before. More than once. But the more I think about it, the more convinced I become that this is not only a good idea, but something we should collectively be pushing for.

Today's reason for telecommuting is global warming. Yes, global warming.

We all agree that in order to do our part to curb global warming, we need to reduce the amount of energy we spend. So let's look at the energy consumption involved in the average office-worker's day.

When it comes to your average work-day, there are two aspects that determine your energy consumption. The first is the electricity employed in the execution of your job.

This electricity is used by the tools you employ in your job: computer and telephone. Whether you're using a computer and telephone at an office or at home makes no difference: the same amount of electricity is being consumed. There are also other devices in an office environment that use electricity that are shared amongst all the employees: air-conditioning, kettles (for coffee), fridges (for storing milk), photocopiers, fax machines, PABXs, communication servers, lighting and so on. Let's look at each of those individually.

Air-conditioning is an absolute requirement in an office environment. When you have a number of large mammals generating heat and exhaling carbon-dioxide in a confined space, it would get pretty uncomfortable pretty quickly. The fewer large mammals contained in that space, the less each air-con unit must work in order to maintain a fixed temperature. So fewer people in the office = less power used by air-con. If you're working at home, you're probably one of very few large mammals occupying the space, so no air-con is necessary, even in the middle of summer.

Kettles are a requirement in an office. If you're a coffee-drinker, you'll have a kettle at home as well. Whether you boil it at the office to make your coffee, or at home makes no difference.

You probably have a fridge at home already. It's probably already operational 24/7. They'll need one at the office to be running all the time as well. Once again it's even money.

If you're alone at home, you don't need to photocopy documents. In fact you shouldn't be photocopying any documents at the office either, but stick-in-the-mud Amish types will insist on it. If you're not there to hand someone a document, the obvious choice is to email it to them. Photocopiers will go silent most of the time, saving paper and power.

Fax machines should be done away with too. If you can scan and email a document, there's no need to fax it. Why buy an extra machine to do the same job? If you're not using paper documents, which you shouldn't be doing anyway if you're working from home, the fax machine will see less action too.

PABXs and communication servers will still be necessary. If your IT department is savvy, they will know how to divert your calls to your cellphone, reducing the number of calls to be made when clients try to reach you. The communication servers that are probably already there will simply be working more on managing remote connections than local ones. Power-wise it's still even money.

If you have less people in an office, you need less lights on. People working from home during the day will tend to leave the lights off and work with sunlight. Since you shouldn't be using paper anyway, and your computer screen is backlit, there should be no need for any artificial lighting. Telecommuting wins again.

So in summary, working from home uses slightly less power (and paper) than working in an office. Most factors are even, but telecommuting wins when it comes to air-con and lighting: two major power wasters.

The second aspect of your power consumption is driving to and from the office.

This is a no-brainer: less driving = less environmental damage. If you can arrange your work week so that you need only go into the office twice a week, that's a 60% reduction on carbon emissions. Even if you only work form home one day a week, that's a 20% reduction! Also, if you consider that driving in peak traffic uses more fuel than off-peak (because your engine is running for longer periods, even if you're covering the same distance) you can reduce your impact even further by scheduling your office-visits for the middle of the day instead of early morning or late afternoon.

I'm serious guys, talk to your bosses. If the company you work for is reasonably tech-savvy, odds are they already have the infrastructure in place to allow you to work from home at least one day a week. You owe it to your personal budget, the company's budget and the environment!

Telecommute for the children!