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US Teleworking Continues to Increase - 2002-03-11

There are about 30 million teleworkers in the United States - people who work at least one day a week outside company offices, using communications links such as the Internet to conduct business. Some teleworkers work at home, some on the road and some from satellite offices.

Teleworkers say the chance to work at home or closer to home saves time, lowers commuting expenses and reduces stress.

Many say teleworking also increases their productivity. Government worker Jane Schuchardt says working out of an office in her home one day a week, enables her to concentrate better.

"When I am in the office, it is constant meetings and constant bombardment and it makes it difficult to do any kind of work that requires real thinking," she said. "Major projects where you really need to shut everything else down, all the noise around you, to be able to write a big report, I tend to save those big projects for when I'm working in another site."

Jane Schuchardt is not alone. Seventy-five percent of home workers surveyed by the Gartner Group, a business consulting firm, said working at home increased both the amount and quality of work produced.

American Express estimates the company's teleworkers produce 43 percent more business than office workers doing the same job.

That may be because they have more time, since they do not have to commute to work. Chuck Wilsker, the director of a coalition that promotes teleworking, says the average U.S. worker takes 40 minutes traveling to and from work every day. That adds up to the equivalent of eight working weeks a year.

Hours spent in traffic not only waste time, he says; they also create air pollution.

"There are five cities - Washington, Philadelphia, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles - that are offering environmental credits and training to businesses that would like to develop an enhanced telework program," Mr. Wilsker said. "People do this because it makes environmental sense."

For increasing numbers of countries it makes demographic sense too. Worried about having enough workers in its rapidly aging population, Chuck Wilsker says, Japan sees teleworking as a way of enabling older people to keep working. He says the U.S. government is also studying the possibility.

"As the baby boomers age, there is going to be a reduction in qualified workers as people retire, so they are looking for a means to increase the work force through offering new opportunities," he said. "Telework is a great opportunity for older people who are not as mobile as others."

Telework is also a means of moving jobs to places of high unemployment, since technology hook ups make a teleworker's physical location irrelevant. Chuck Wilsker says for all these reasons he expects the number of U.S. teleworkers to continue increasing steadily.