By Melissa J. Anderson

We’ve discussed on Evolved Employer in the past how telecommuting is a great way to cut back on costs and improve employee engagement significantly. As Karyn Likerman, SVP, Human Resources at Citigroup, recently told us:

“We do an annual employee survey every September, so our most recent one is hot off the presses. By and large, people who self-report that they have a flex schedule are more satisfied on almost every index – they are clearly more engaged.”

Workers who have the option to work from home report being more satisfied with their jobs. But, as Ram Nidumolu, C.K. Prahalad, and M.R. Rangaswami wrote in a recent Harvard Business Review article “Why Sustainability Is Now the Key Driver of Innovation,” teleworking can have real advantages from business and sustainability standpoints as well.

Why Telecommuting Policies are Critical for Evolved Employers

In their article, Nidumolu et al. very succinctly quantified the cost saving benefits of teleworking. They write:

“One-tenth of the corporations in our sample had from 21% to 50% of their employees telecommuting regularly. Of IBM’s 320,000 employees, 25% telecommute, which leads to an annual savings of $700 million in real estate costs alone. AT&T estimates that it saves $550 million annually as a result of telecommuting.”

And the workforce benefits are also quantifiable. They continued:

“Productivity rises by 10% to 20%, and job satisfaction also increases when people telecommute up to three days a week. For example, at the health-care services provider McKesson, the group that reported the highest job satisfaction in 2007 consisted of 1,000 nurses who worked from home.”

The writers also briefly discussed the sustainability-related benefits of teleworking and flex scheduling, like reduced energy use. When implemented well, telecommuting can save money, save energy, and make more employees happier and more productive. But, it’s a change from a traditional model of work – and that can be scary. It shouldn’t be though.

Teleworking is an Innovative Solution for Scarcity

The point that Nidumolu et al. make is that that sustainability isn’t going away. In fact, it will be a necessity moving forward, and that shouldn’t be a frightening prospect. In fact, sustainability should be approached as an opportunity for growth. They write:

“Next practices change existing paradigms. To develop innovations that lead to next practices, executives must question the implicit assumptions behind current practices. This is exactly what led to today’s industrial and services economy. Somebody once asked: Can we create a carriage that moves without horses pulling it? Can we fly like birds? Can we dive like whales? By questioning the status quo, people and companies have changed it. In like vein, we must ask questions about scarce resources…”

The scare resources that teleworking addresses include some of the most vital – space, energy, and high quality talent. By implementing telecommuting policies that work now, companies can get a leg up on their competitors by enacting a method of work that is becoming more common – and more attractive to high performing employees.

As Likerman said, “We have seen increasing acceptance of the program around the world, and in some of our businesses, it’s just the way people do business. It’s been very successful.”

Employers can expect to see more demand for telecommuting going forward – and, as Nidumolu et al. point out, current global business practices are not sustainable for an environmental or future workforce perspective. They write, “Traditional approaches to business will collapse, and companies will have to develop innovative solutions. That will happen only when executives recognize a simple truth: Sustainability = Innovation.”

A sustainable future requires businesses to innovate now, rather than play catch-up later. A smart employer should begin to sort out best practices for telecommuting now, before it becomes a workforce imperative.