Forget Britomart, work from home

Depending on your point of view about such things, it's either good or bad news that 50 people arrive in Auckland every day. What's definitely bad news is that at least 20 of them will be driving to work.

Depending on your point of view about such things, it's either good or bad news that 50 people arrive in Auckland every day. What's definitely bad news is that at least 20 of them will be driving to work.

They're going to need car parking spaces, roads, petrol, the whole lot. The local councils -- we have many in Auckland -- are fretting about what to do to accommodate them all.

But for all the talk and spending on studies and roads that's going on, nobody has suggested telecommuting as one viable solution and I want to know why.

This isn't just an Auckland problem either. The last time I was in Wellington the roads were crazy, and that's despite millions of hardy souls taking the trains each year. Here in Auckland, of course, we're going to build what is surely the world's most expensive bus stop by digging into reclaimed land that sticks out into the harbour. We're also buying new carriages from a museum in Australia to build up our collection of tired, old rolling stock. No, seriously.

Sure, not every job is going to be suitable for telecommuting, or "tele-cottaging" as the English alarmingly like to call it. But there will be many workplaces that can take advantage of sending their staff home.

The Wairarapa Smart Region Broadband Survey suggests that around a third of commuters are heading into the city to jobs that could just as easily be done from home. A third. I'd happily see a third fewer cars on the road; even a quarter would be fine with me. Nobody is touting a public transport option anywhere in New Zealand that would reduce traffic by a third that I'm aware of.

There are two problems that need to be overcome before teleworking becomes viable: cost, and the attitude of managers.

Cost is easy. Work out how much you pay to get to work and back each day and then work out how much a broadband connection to your home would cost. You'll need broadband, because that way you'll be as productive as you would be in an office with high-speed internet access. The cost of broadband should be less than the cost of the train ticket, car usage, parking charges and so on. Telecom and the other broadband network providers should be pounding this point to businesses and councils alike -- we already have a solution to your traffic problem.

Sadly, there's little or no incentive to reduce pollution and congestion in this manner. Councils and central government aren't offering companies rebates of any kind to set staff up in this manner. Nobody's talking about offering a cheaper network solution to those willing to work from home, unless you count farmers as telecommuters, which I don't.

The other problem is probably the management structure of your company. Managers, especially middle managers, like to see their staff. They like to know they're actually doing something productive rather than gossiping in the tea room. They like to see them at their desks at 8.30 in the morning doing what they're paid for. Who knows what they'd be getting up to at home? I can appreciate that point of view -- it's one borne of years of experience and no amount of performance-related pay schedules will change that. Staff need to be managed, otherwise what's the point of having managers?

This is a trickier proposition to deal with, coupled as it is with some kind of up-front costs involved in letting staff work from home. There's the equipment cost, the issue of fringe benefit tax and, of course, occupational overuse syndrome to consider if the employee's PC is set up on the kitchen table. Phones still need to be answered, though various call handling regimes should take care of that by diverting calls to the appropriate extension, be it in the building or elsewhere. There's also the tricky issue of who's going to pay for all that tea I drink.

As a worker from home I can only say it's a great way of life. I don't have to battle with traffic, except of course for that horrible Monday morning staff meeting. I don't fight for a park and don't have to wear office attire when it's a hot, muggy Auckland morning. How many of you are keen on such an arrangement and how many of you are already doing it? Let me know. Maybe there's a groundswell of support that we need to trumpet from the suburban rooftops.

Brislen is IDGNet’s reporter. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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