By Andrew Heiser / Murphy News Service
As part of the lead up to Earth Day on April 22, the eWorkPlace project is recognizing employers in the Twin Cities who encourage their employees to occasionally telecommute or work from home.
The project, which is funded by the Metropolitan Council and partly managed by the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, promotes teleworking as a way to reduce traffic emissions and congestion, as well as improve employee well-being and productivity.
The list of Twin Cities “Telework Champions” comprises a variety of organizations that use teleworking as part of their business strategies. The full list of employers can be found on the eWorkPlace website.
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows at least 130,000 Minnesota workers, or about 5 percent of the statewide workforce, engage in some form of teleworking. The eWorkPlace program has about 4,200 participants from almost 50 area employers.
The project says these participants collectively save 8.2 million pounds of carbon dioxide annually by teleworking, which it estimates as the equivalent of planting 1,000 acres of forest.
The eWorkPlace also highlights more direct benefits for both workers and employers. For example, working from home can save time and expenses that would otherwise be spent on commuting, and the added flexibility can reduce stress and increase job satisfaction.
The project suggests that teleworking can increase overall workplace performance, commitment, and engagement while simultaneously reducing facilities costs.
Supervalu Vice President of Communication Jeff Swanson said the company, which eWorkPlace recognized as a Telework Champion, launched a “mobile work environment” in its Eden Prairie offices several years ago.
“This change from traditional work cubes was really aimed at providing a flexible and convenient workspace for our employees,” Swanson said. “The change has been a positive for the organization and a great benefit for our employees, who have more flexibility in where and how they work in the office, as well as the opportunity to work from home or a mobile location one or two days a week.”
But telework is not for everyone. Many workers prefer a separation between work and home, and some find it easier to focus in an office environment. A balance of part-time telework may help employees work without distractions, eWorkPlace suggests.
The University of Minnesota’s Center for Transportation Studies has said that many employers remain skeptical of telework policies because they are unfamiliar with the potential economic benefits. Although every workplace is different, one U of M research team recently studied several different organizations and found that “employees and managers expressed high levels of satisfaction with a flexible work environment, and high employee usage rates were noted.”
An organization that utilizes telework may be able to use its office space more efficiently, but it will also need to make sure it has the technology to make effective telework possible. An eWorkPlace report said teleworkers need to effectively interface with specific applications and data to perform their job tasks, so the right systems should be in place to prevent disruptions.
Some jobs, such as office, research, and administrative positions with individual assignments, lend themselves more to telework than others, and many organizations simply find that telework arrangements are not practical for them.
The U of M is currently conducting more research into the benefits of telework.
Andrew Heiser is studying journalism at the University of Minnesota.