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Going Virtual By The Numbers

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How much could American businesses save if workers were allowed to spend half of their time working from home? Here's a hint: It's enough to pay for universal health care.

Yesterday, I called up Kate Lister, the founder of the Telework Research Network and the author of Undress for Success. Lister, who posted some estimates in a great Inc.com comment last week in response to our virtual company experiment, has developed a model for what would happen to the U.S. economy if all the people who could work at home--a figure she puts at roughly 40 percent of the workforce--did so half the time. Here's an overview of what our country would look like if this happened:

1. Productivity gains. Because at-home workers are generally more productive than office workers, companies would see an increase in productivity worth about $200 billion a year.
2. Savings. Besides being more productive, Lister estimates that companies would save $194 billion a year in reduced real estate expenses, electricity bills, absenteeism, and employee turnover.
3. The environment. Sending workers home reduces pollution in two ways: By cutting total electricity use (home-based workers are generally better about switching off the lights when they leave a room) and by reducing the number of miles employees travel in their cars. Lister figures that would eliminate 84 million tons of greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere every year.
4. Safer roads. Workers who drive fewer miles get in fewer traffic accidents, which would mean that 150,000 fewer people would be killed or injured in car accidents.

In total, Lister thinks the savings to the U.S. economy every year would be $750 billion, roughly what the health care reform package proposed by President Obama and passed by the Senate is supposed to cost over ten years.

She has also created a model for determining the impact on local economies, using government data that takes into account commute times, distribution of labor, and local energy prices. You can plug in your hometown here.

Please keep the comments coming. You can post them below or on the original thread--or just send me an email. Over the next few weeks I'll be posting the best ones.

Last updated: Feb 10, 2010




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