Most of what is written on Green IT concentrates on how the IT Department can reduce the carbon footprint of its operations, primarily through reducing Data Center power consumption. While this is important as IT operations makes up 2-3% of global power consumption, our efforts to reduce our environmental impact should not end with the data-center. As well as including the end-point into Green IT planning (something I covered in a previous entry), IT can have a role in enabling Green business practices such as the paper-less office, Remote Collaboration (thus reducing the need for business travel) and Telecommuting.

Its this last practice, Telecommuting, which I want to discuss in more detail. For one thing, its something that we can do as individuals (work and management permitting, of course) as well as on a cross-company, cross-industry and even national basis. It fits in with the “think globally, act locally” mantra, with the emphasis on “local”.

The Telecommuting trend has for some time been more tied to employee satisfaction, work-life balance and increasingly recruitment strategies (such as “homesourcing“). However, the rapid increase in the price of oil has made the cost of commuting to work a much larger percentage of household budgets, and therefore more noticeable to the average Joe or Jane. While many of us may wish that people would find other motivations to reduce their carbon footprint other than the hip-pocket nerve, rising costs will probably have the most realistic chance of effecting widespread change.

Increasing the number of employees that telecommute rather than drive to the office can cause a significant reduction in the fuel consumption, and therefore carbon emissions, of those individual employees. While this may seem obvious, you can read a detailed study conducted by the University of California….back in 1988! As well, more recent EPA studies have shown that even a 10% reduction of cars during peak hours can reduce the fuel consumption of those vehicles still traveling to the office, as the improved traffic flow results in less time burning fuel in gridlock. To get an idea of how this works, think about how much better your own commute is during school vacation periods.

While this shows there there would be significant benefits to the environment if a greater proportion of the workforce spent at least some time of the working week telecommuting, how practical is this generally, and in specific job roles? If your job does not involve “face time” with customers, telecommuting is probably a more practical option for you than those involved in regular customer interaction. That being said,  there are a number of organizations allowing call-center agents to work from home, such as Cox Communications.

While I have regularly telecommuted over the last decade or so, as well as introduced telecommuting programs for employees doing Tech Support and Customer Care, I have decided to use a period where I need to work remotely to try to measure (at least to qualify if not to quantify) the effectiveness of the technologies used to enable telecommuting. Over the next few weeks, I will blog on my experience based on the following criteria:

  • Voice: How can I remain in verbal contact with staff, colleagues and customers? How do they get in contact with me without having to know whether I am in the office or not?
  • Applications: How does my app performance vary when not in the office? What impact does occasional offline access make to this?
  • Security: What would happen if my laptop or home PC was stolen or otherwise compromised? How do I set up my physical facilities to minimize security risks?
  • Collaboration: How important are those “water-cooler” discussions and other face-to-face formal and informal interactions? If they are important, how do you replicate this when remote?

I have experienced challenges with each of these criterion in my own experiences as well as those relayed to me be customers.
While most of the technologies I will be using come from Citrix (partly because we like to eat our own dog food but mainly because we have been a long-time enabler remote work practices such as telecommuting), I will be also looking at other products and technologies to fill any gaps or compare.

I mentioned earlier that I want to use this as an opportunity to discuss telecommuting. As such, I would really appreciate your comments and suggestions on what I should be testing (technologies, criteria and scenarios), what your own experiences have been, and whether you think an increased proportion of your work time as telecommuting would have a benefit to you, your employer, customers/partners and the environment. Please contribute to this discussion by posting comments to this entry. In a later entry I will add a forum address if there is sufficient interest in this topic.