Teleworking, telecommuting, and working-from-home, these are terms that are often used interchangeably. Yesterday, this topic received some much needed attention during the White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility. First lady Michelle Obama opened the forum with a speech about how companies need to provide a working environment that allows Americans to balance both work and home responsibilities.


The forum coincided with the release of a new report from the Council of Economic Advisers — Work-Life Balance and the Economics of Workplace Flexibility (PDF). The report has identified some key changes in the American work force that require companies and the government to re-evaluate traditional workplace scenarios.

According to the report, women account for about 50 percent of the work force and nearly 50 percent of households have every adult working. For those households with children, when both parents work or there is a single-parent household, taking time off for doctor’s visits, school appointments, and even sick days is not always feasible.

Working adults don’t just need to take time off to take care of children, the report also shows that nearly 20 percent of our nation’s work force is also the caregiver for an adult over the age of 50. When you factor in life events like childbirth and employees getting sick themselves, there is a strong need for a flexible workplace.

The White House forum discussed several options including delayed start times, a gradual return to full-time hours after a major life event, and of course working from home. Unfortunately, only 15 percent of workers surveyed reported they were able to work from home at least once per week. American companies need to embrace telecommuting as a viable work place flexibility option.

When company executives were asked about the impediments to increasing work place flexibility, many cited costs as a limiting factor. However, the report also shows that companies don’t always have accurate information about the true costs and benefits of a flexible work place, including telecommuting.

The major snowstorms that shut down the Washington, D.C., area this winter have actually led to a new pilot program. The Office of Personnel Management will be launching a new program that "will build on the cost savings telework provided during last winter’s snow storms and expand opportunities for federal employees, here in Washington and across America, to telework on a regular basis." Source: White House

That’s right, telecommuting actually saved the government money. When the mass transit systems were closed down and the roads unsafe, federal employees were still able to work from home. Productivity continued despite Mother Nature’s best efforts.

After the forum had ended, President Obama took a few minutes to address the audience. He stressed the importance of bringing telecommuting opportunities to the nation’s communities that desperately need new jobs and showed his support for expanding teleworking opportunities for federal employees.

Although the focus of the forum wasn’t entirely on expanding telecommuting, it was one of the suggest solutions to help employees balance their work and home lives.

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