Saturday, July 12, 2008

How to beat the fuel crisis: work from bed

telecommuting Telecommuting is a synonym for the use of telecommunications to work outside the traditional office or workplace, usually at home. Could telecommuting be an answer to the fuel crisis? The definitive answer is yes and no.

On the yes side:

If an increased number of people were able to work from home, huge reductions in emissions could be made. As telecommuting increased, the volume of commuter traffic would decrease. Huge savings would be made in fuel costs. Huge savings would also be made in road maintenance of roads and the building of new roads to accommodate relentless traffic demands. Governments could give up trying to make inefficient and inadequate public transport profitable and use savings on roads to make it free. Studies have shown that some people just aren't cut out for the 9 to 5 routine. Their body clocks are set to a different schedule and they are more active later in the day. If non early risers were allowed to work from home and manage their own working hours their level of efficiency would increase. Telecommuting could benefit not only the environment but the productivity of businesses and the economy.

On the no side:

The current telecommunications system just isn't up to the demands changes like this would make. Australia's internet connection speeds are currently the third slowest and expensive in the developed world. Only Poland and Czechoslovakia have worse systems. In Japan the speeds and bandwidth is approximately 20 times as great. I find that at least 50% of the time I spend working on a computer is spent on waiting for something to happen or to reestablish a broken connection. If just 1% of the money currently spent on cars, roads, fuel etc. was spent on high speed optic fibre telecommunications systems, we could all have super fast connections and work efficiently from home with none of the current frustrations such work entails. We could also have digital TV and entertainment services available via broadband making working from home even more attractive. 100 movies to choose from for break time? Yes please.

dr john hewson loserThe sale of the national telecommunications carrier, Telstra has made upgrading networks difficult in Australia. Having deregulated the telecommunications industry and allowed competition in the form of Optus to enter the market (hugely subsidised by tax payers), a dilemma exists with an infrastructure upgrade. According to government contracts, whichever carrier the government chooses to roll out out the fibre optics, the other carrier must be compensated to the tune of billions. The Howard government's response to this problem was to do nothing and subsequently suffers with internet connections among the worst in the world. Selling Telstra was like selling the goose that lays the golden eggs; Telstra has made as much money as it was sold for since its sale, but with little benefit to shareholders. The expected benefits of privatisation have not materialised: consumers have not experienced lower prices or dramatic improvements in service. Optus is still owned by SingTel, or in other words, Singapore; they were never silly enough to sell their national carrier from devotion to some set of half baked economic rationalist theories.

The sale of Telstra was originally outlined in Dr John Hewson's failed "Fightback" campaign of 1992. Hewson's policies, the sale of Telstra, the GST and the hated "Work Choices" industrial relations reforms were finally realised during the term of the Howard government. The fact that the Elderslie Finance Corporation, of which Hewson was chairman until recently is now in receivership bears testament that his ideas for the nation might not have been the economic panacea he believed them to be.


  • increased power usage at home
    - computer systems which integrate entertainment (why have a TV and a computer monitor?) and other functions using power saving features could overcome this
  • increased stress on workers as the division between work and leisure time becomes blurred
    - people could easily get used to the change and learn to manage their time effectively
  • loss of social interaction with work colleagues
    - I could personally do without this kind of social life. I'd much rather spend time with family and friends I actually have something in common with. It's estimated we spend more time with the people we work with than our families, and all we have in common is we work at the same place!


  • reductions in carbon emissions and environmental benefits
  • savings on fuel costs
    - you're basically going to need to drive a whole lot less
  • flexible working hours- allows people to work at times when their minds are most active
    - allows families to work and look after their children, leading to reduced costs in childcare
  • kick ass internet speeds and quality digital entertainment services
    - if work was defined by meeting goals rather than just spending time at work we could work shorter hours and allow more time for having fun
  • time would not be wasted sitting in traffic jams
    - any stress the introduction of telecommuting might bring would offset by escaping the drudgery of the rat race and road rage
  • We could all spend a lot more time in bed!


Bikran said...

that sounds real interesting and cozy too . wish we had such facilities . may be such wonders cud happen in the countries of the first world but in developing countries like ours . That sounds truly impossible . we could just wish and nothing else :d
but this write for sure is a million dollar one . fascinating .
keep posting goodluck.

Liam said...

I suppose it's easy to take what we have for granted and complain about it. We forget that some countries don't have such facilities. Sooner or later, they will and practices like telecommuting will become commonplace.

It obviously isn't the answer to everything; some people do work not related to computers. However, if their work was related to transport, reductions in traffic would effect their work.

I included the edited version of Magritte's dream image because I really am just dreaming. Staying in bed all day has always been my dream!

Meridith Levinson said...

I just finished writing an article about a small software company in the U.S. that decided to close its two offices to save money and spare employees the rising cost and hassle of commuting. Now everyone in this company works at home. Though telecommuting is gaining steam in the U.S., most companies (and the management inside those companies) remain resistant to the idea because they think it's so hard to manage people. I hope this article I wrote shows companies the tremendous benefits that can be reaped (cost savings, improved productivity and customer service, happier employees and easier ability to recruit staff) through telecommuting. I hope the story also demonstrates that telecommuting really doesn't require all that much support.

Liam said...

Thanks for your comment Meredith; I found your article very interesting and thought provoking. You are quite right; flexibility is the key. As I pointed out in this article businesses need to focus more on goal setting rather than just the number of hours spent at work for a model like this to succeed. The benefits in terms of costs, time and the environment are appreciable.

Support is also an issue. Workers need to change their approach to work and exercise a certain amount of self discipline. When domestic concerns and children impinge on your work it can be a huge source of pressure.