Updates on CyberSecurity, WordPress and what we're cooking in the lab today.

Commuting Kills

This entry was posted in Miscellaneous, Wordfence on August 12, 2015 by Mark Maunder   81 Replies

Every year we lose up to 10% of our electricity purely due to resistance during transmission. If you’ve ever wondered why a room-temperature superconductor is sought after, this is why. Thinking about superconductivity reminded me of the problem I have with companies who don’t allow telecommuting. The way I see it, remote-workers are like work-place superconductivity: Brain power and productivity arrive instantly where they’re needed with zero transmission cost.

I decided to do the math on what the health and environmental costs are related to commuting to work every year.

Moving people from home to work is surprisingly expensive in many ways. The average commute time by car in the United States is about 25 minutes each way. The average commute time by other means is also just over 25 minutes each way. [Source: US Census Bureau and wnyc.org data from census.gov] The average number of work days per year is 261. [Source: OPM.gov]

This gives us a total time spent commuting by car (or other means) per year of 217.5 hours, or 9 days. That’s 9 days (without sleeping) per year of your life you spend in a car, train, bus or other means of getting to work. That assumes you’re the average and not stuck on the I405 in California for 4 hours per day. I worked with a friend who had that commute.

If “sitting is the new smoking” [Source: Mayo Clinic and Dr James Levine], a phrase coined by Dr James Levine which has gained a groundswell of support of late, spending 9 waking days sitting in a car and pushing pedals, or on a bus or train per year has a profoundly detrimental impact on our health.

The number of people who drive to work alone is 105 million or about 88 percent of all car commuters. [Source: census.gov] So to make the math simple, lets just ignore the car-poolers. That gives us 50 minutes per day of drive time, times 261 working days, times 105 million commuters = 22,837,500,000 hours or 22.8 Billion hours of commuting time for Americans per year.

What does that translate to in terms of environmental cost? The average fuel consumption in the USA is 23.6 miles per gallon. [Source: Washington Post report on 2012 average MPG] Based on the numbers above, if we assume an average speed during commute of 35 miles per hour, the average commute distance becomes 14.5 miles each way or 29 miles per day. That gives us a total yearly miles commuted figure of 105 million lone-car commuters (the 88% majority), times 261 days per year, times 29 miles per day equals 794,745,000,000 miles or 794 billion total miles commuted per year. At 23.6 MPG that gives us 33,675,635,593 gallons or 33.7 billion gallons of fuel burned by commuters per year.

The environmental impact of burning gasoline goes beyond CO2 emissions and greenhouse effect. But lets just use CO2 to illustrate the point. Burning a gallon of gasoline produces 8,887 grams of CO2. [Source: EPA] This results in our yearly commute producing 299,275,373 metric tonnes or 299 million metric tonnes of CO2 every year from car commuting alone.

It’s easy to disappear down a rabbit hole of depressing environmental and social cost math on this issue. I’m tempted to translate the gallons of gasoline into oil barrels and compare it to field production figures and their environmental impact. If you’re an arithmetic and research geek, post it in the comments.

Consider again the 9 complete days per year we lose when commuting, the health cost and the 33 billion gallons of gasoline burned. What startles me is seeing companies like Yahoo, who are perceived as one of our leading employers, actually getting rid of telecommuting programs, citing company culture issues. Yahoo has 12,500 employees. [Source: Yahoo]

Google has a large number of open positions. But when visiting the “Telecommuting options” page, there are no jobs listed. [Help me Googlers, are you telecommuting? Post in the comments.]

In the software industry there are a large number of positions that are clearly candidates for remote working and telecommuting. Development, quality assurance and customer service to name a few. Our entire team works remotely and other leading companies like Basecamp and Automattic (makers of WordPress) are 100% remote working companies.

We have conversations and collaborate with other remote working businesses and they have introduced us to tools like Slack and UberConference that go a long way to add back the ‘company culture’ that not being physically in the same room can remove.

There is a common misconception that by adding ‘remote working’ to a position, companies can get cheap with other benefits because you get to ‘work from home’. We haven’t found that to be true in our sector. Our package is better than many commuter jobs and includes: 401k with matching contribution, platinum health-care, dental, 21 days of leave per year (The maximum in our sector), market-rate base salary and generous options package.

In view of the environmental, health and life cost of commuting to work, I’d suggest that all employers in the software sector give serious thought to creating more jobs that are 100% remote working and increase the amount of remote working allowed for on-site employees.

I’d also add that branding ‘remote working’ as work-from-home (WFH) which suggests it’s a perk to employees and purely emphasizes that aspect is unhelpful. Remote-working affords software workers quiet time they may not have at work and comes with the benefits, environmental, health and quality of life that I’ve described above.

Where remote working is not possible or undesirable, I’d recommend coming up with strong, rational and tangible reasons why an employee needs to be based on-site, rather than intangibles like culture, narrative or norms. The impact of not working remotely is profoundly negative in the ways I’ve illustrated.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. I’d love to hear more about your working conditions or your thoughts as an employer or someone in human resources.

Mark Maunder – Wordfence Founder & CEO

Footnotes:

I’ve cited sources from Census.gov, Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Personnel Management and others. All data quoted above is in the context of companies based in the United States and US data sources. I apologize to our international readers for being US centric, it just happens to be the best data I have available and we’re a US company. Please share your own data in the comments.

Some figures in this blog post startled me – the figure showing that 88% of car commuters are one person per car in particular. A strong argument for better public transportation if we can’t eliminate commuting.

A note on my comments regarding Yahoo: It’s not my intention to single Yahoo out as being environmentally unfriendly or disparage them in any other way. I think Ms. Mayer is a thought leader in many areas and the challenges Yahoo faces in human resources are significant. My intention is to promote dialogue and awareness on both sides of the argument for and against telecommuting.

Did you enjoy this post? Share it!


Your rating:

81 Comments on "Commuting Kills"

Dave August 12, 2015 at 2:41 pm • Reply

I absolutely agree. The costs in human terms, environmental terms, economic terms, social terms and just about any other way you slice it to being forced to drive to someplace (or commute on any form of transportation) is enormous. Commuting to my office in my home takes all of 5 minutes of walking, no pollution expended, no extra cost to me or society for roads, no chance for road rage and no need for a big office building someplace with cramped people in cubes. A major problem with many societies is the tendency to pack people tight in big cities - that's where you find the shortest tempers, more crime and more pollution of every sort. If humanity were more dispersed and came together for intentional social reasons instead of being forced like ants into population centers, I'm convinced that many of societies ills would shrink substantially. Good article Mark! And thanks for a great product too.

mark August 12, 2015 at 2:47 pm • Reply

Thanks Dave, much appreciated.

Liz August 14, 2015 at 6:54 am • Reply

Thank you so much for having the courage to write such a realistic article. I been working remotely for the past 5 years and my service as an Accountant has not diminish or is less productive. I believe there many position that could benefits of having freelancers and employees working off site. I think conserving the environment, reducing pollution and traffic is a priority that many big cities are dealing right now. And improving a life styles with less stress.

Antarr Byrd August 12, 2015 at 2:43 pm • Reply

Great post. To bad theres no link to share

mark August 12, 2015 at 2:47 pm • Reply

Ah! Thanks Antarr. We recently redesigned the site and we still need to add back the social media sharing links. I'll make sure that gets done.

Blair O'Neil August 12, 2015 at 6:50 pm • Reply

Here's a shortened link to this article / post for Antarr or anyone else wanting to share and not seeing a link: https://goo.gl/UANPXo

This post reflects my sentiments exactly. I have been "working from home" doing design and web work since 1996 without any commute except the occasional local client meeting during non-commute hours. It's been a great "ride" so to speak... highly recommended and definitely lowers the stress. Used to commute to SF and I was at least 3 hours in the car or bus every day. Bleck... made me mentally sick to think about it... until I gave it up and that was a great decision for me and my family who suffered greatly also due to my lack of being home. I say the more the merrier and I hope that can do this, even part-time, start as soon as possible.

And of course if you can ride a bike or walk to work, that's great too for so many reasons as well! :)

luke August 12, 2015 at 6:43 pm • Reply

why not share the URL for the page?

Tom Harnish August 12, 2015 at 2:47 pm • Reply

Great post Mark. As a very happy Wordfence Pro customer, it's fun to see folks we like weighing in on a subject that's our passion. We've been researching and writing about this for almost 10 years, originally as skeptics but the facts turned us around. Based on over 4000 articles, studies, and reports that we reviewed and cataloged, we've built several calculators the conservatively asses the people, plant, and profit impact of telecommuting. Your readers and customers might find the employee savings calculator most useful. It's at http://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/employee-savings-calculator

mark August 12, 2015 at 2:48 pm • Reply

Thanks Tom.

Tom Harnish August 12, 2015 at 2:48 pm • Reply

Yike! Wrong link. Use http://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/employee-savings-calculator

mark August 12, 2015 at 2:50 pm • Reply

Thanks, I was about to comment that connecting weather to employee habits is an interesting angle... ;-) I've updated the link in your other comment.

Bob Marconi August 12, 2015 at 2:51 pm • Reply

Having been a commuter only once in my life, for about one year, and lucky enough at that to be traveling against the normal commute, I could never understand how folks could deal with this for years.

It would have done me in for sure!

Bob

mark August 12, 2015 at 2:55 pm • Reply

The worst for me was working at etoys.com in Santa Monica during the dot-com boom (2000). I was previously based in London and commuted via tube. First time working with a majority of people commuting via car. Some folks had a 2 hour commute each way - and that's on the I5 and I405 in SoCal which is start-stop traffic. It struck me as a new kind of cruelty I hadn't seen before.

Tom Harnish August 12, 2015 at 2:53 pm • Reply

Regarding foreign stats - we've done studies of UK and Canada and the numbers are almost identical. Free Whitepapers on the studies available at http://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/whitepapers.

Lynette August 12, 2015 at 2:56 pm • Reply

The decisions should be individual and not made by the government.
That includes all the alphabet soup agency that have no oversight by Congress. Security is the biggest threat to our country. The government has no clue how to handle it. The government is inundated with socialist and Islamists sympathizers that want to
take over the security of the country.
A year ago I would not have believe it. Don't let the government into your company.

Joshua August 12, 2015 at 2:58 pm • Reply

Thanks for this article Mark. The calculations you shared are absolutely remarkable, and the whole perspective on remote-working that you present in this article is very insightful. Also, definitely need those social sharing options on your site....

All the best,

Tom Harnish August 12, 2015 at 3:00 pm • Reply

The weather is an, ahem, hot topic these days. Although the interest has been around why it's so darn cold in office buildings in the summer. Well written article (mot just be cause we get a lot of the ink) at Houston Chronicle. http://goo.gl/dMUET8

Wellness is also a topic that's bubbling up too, in the context of employee productivity. See http://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/whats-good-for-people-moving-from-wellness-to-well-being/98884

allritr August 12, 2015 at 3:02 pm • Reply

Feels ironic to receive this message while waiting for a bus to begin a 2 hour commute to work. The day after working from home. With sprawling cities and double incomes required just to live in them many corporations and parts of society just don't understand that the old ways don't work anymore. Leisure time, family time has disappeared into long hours at work as workers struggle to more tasks with less help (downsizing), longer commutes and still the same amount of housework and familial duties.

Telecommuting helps a lot, I find. But there is often resistance from managers for whom the meeting is the basic unit of work and for those that use social interactions (read office politics) to get where they are.

Gene August 12, 2015 at 3:06 pm • Reply

I work for a large financial institution and have been a remote worker since 2006. If I were in the market for a new employer, and I am not, it would be a requirement that I could work from home full time.

Not surprised by the numbers. Makes one wonder about who is really driving the train - big oil comes to mind.

LadyImpactOhio August 12, 2015 at 3:08 pm • Reply

Interesting you chose this topic, in light of EPA saturating 80 miles of water with toxic waste in an area that desperately needs clean water.

Allan Philip August 12, 2015 at 3:11 pm • Reply

Thanks Dave, this is a solution that most should incorporate cause it's such an easy way of cutting pollution, especially in inner-cities.

Rafael Minuesa August 12, 2015 at 3:12 pm • Reply

It of course depends on the kind of work you have, but for someone like a web developer there's absolutely no need to waste all that precious time and money commuting to work. And there are many more nuisances involved, it's not only the travelling.

I guess companies that are against telecommuting worry about their workers slacking off, but with a set of goals perfectly defined that need be accomplished at an exact given time, what else does it matter? You can even easily set up video meetings as well if needed.

Anyway Mark, thank you for a great product that has helped me salvage many a website.

Gary August 12, 2015 at 3:15 pm • Reply

Great read, Mark. One factor you didn’t cover is the risk. How many commuters are injured and killed each year on the way to work? How many commuters have incidents ranging from fender benders to serious accidents that require serious repairs or replacement vehicles? It doesn’t take much damage for a car to pass the write off threshold.

After commuting for years in the Toronto and Dallas markets I started out working remotely four days a week for a year before I cut the cord and worked full time remotely. That was several years ago now. It took a change of management to make it happen. I think there’s a generational sea change on the issue. I can’t tell you precisely where the age break is but from my experience it is somewhere between the Boomers and the Gen Xers. I found from day one that I was far more productive working from my home office. The funny, somewhat unexpected surprise was to learn how much time we waste with our daily rituals in an office setting. Morning greetings, “how about that game last night”, superfluous meetings, Tom stopping by my office to talk off topic, lunch, waiting for the microwave, packing up at the end of the day, all these things added up to chew away the day. Once I was working remotely I sped through my tasks much more efficiently. The main thing I miss now is some sort of daily human interaction. Talking to the cat isn’t quite the same.

Brandon Bailey August 12, 2015 at 3:19 pm • Reply

great article (i liked the super conductor analogy) it's good how you've pulled all these facts into one place.- I've been convinced for years (from a $/hour standpoint) that work transit is actually overtime that we pay ourselves.
Some jobs do require people on site, but there is an answer to that as well.
I had a friend years ago who toured a manitou (they make forklifts and machinery) factory in france, and they built an entire town next to the plant for the thousands of workers to live in.
For change to really happen the governments need to step up as well.
they need to change their "lets pack as many people into cities as possible to increase the profit/square meter" mentality and think about different ways of doing things
(do what the taxes pay them to).

Roy August 12, 2015 at 3:22 pm • Reply

Thx mark. Brilliant post. Where is the like button..?

mark August 12, 2015 at 3:31 pm • Reply

We just revamped the site and forgot to add our social-goodness buttons back. So I've put a twitter button manually at the bottom of this post and we're getting a huge spike of traffic right now so our site lead dev is holding off on touching anything lest it explodes. Sorry about that - will fix soon.

Noogler August 12, 2015 at 3:23 pm • Reply

Some info about Google:

While teleconference is used quite extensively via Google Hangouts, you can't have code on your laptop unless you're building for OSX for example where there isn't any choice but to use a mac. That's why you really NEED a desk - there are very strict security policies. And obviously all of the free food etc is a huge motivator to actually show up anyway. Why would you want to telecommute when an executive chef is smoking your bacon for breakfast and making you quail for lunch every day.

mark August 12, 2015 at 3:35 pm • Reply

Ah. Bacon. Thanks for the input - I hadn't thought of including data about secure environments or doing some thinking about that. Telecommuting is definitely not an option for folks with clearance. About 5.1 million people in the US have clearance right now, so it's a relatively small percentage. Although I think you're referring to proprietary IP that isn't allowed to be moved off-site - which would be a much larger population. Most of our code is open source, so that completely eliminates those kinds of policies for us for that code base.

Martin August 12, 2015 at 3:38 pm • Reply

Depends on what you want from life. But Food. Please! This isn't the middle ages.

Having a "free lunch" is chump change compared to salary and other factors when considering a job. You can spend $4k of your own money a year and have not only lunch but a choice of where to buy it and whom to lunch with. Oh you may save $4k a year in commuting costs by working from home.

So then it becomes free lunch vs. more time with your children. Free lunch vs. time to code my personal project, go for a run, practice my photography skills in an interesting part of the city.

Maria Romana August 12, 2015 at 3:23 pm • Reply

Yes, thank you for saying all this! I just recently left a job of 5+ years, only because the company (a Fortune 50 mega-corp) decided to end their existing work-from-policy, stating some fluffy excuse about "associates losing touch" with one another. Hogwash! Most of us worked with colleagues who were nowhere near our closest physical office, so whether we went to the office or stayed home, all our interactions were virtual anyway. For all of the reasons you stated above, not the least of which is quiet concentration time, I opted to take my experience to a small, innovative company that is 100% remote. There is no reasonable justification in our modern, highly-connected world to not have at least some positions telecommute, and I can't begin to guess what companies like my former employer are thinking when they make these changes. They will lose their best, hardest workers and replace them with folks who enjoy the social aspects of corporate life more than the actual work they're supposed to be doing!

Jim August 17, 2015 at 1:52 am • Reply

I love the fact that I can work from home, but you have to get yourself in to a routine it is not for every one just like running your own business. You have to be disciplined and ensure you work as if you were at the office. One of the down sides of working from home is sometimes you miss the interaction with other employees

Mike August 12, 2015 at 3:24 pm • Reply

Although I agree, I'm a little confused on how the numbers are relating. You are lumping the entire workforce in the US, but only small sections of the workforce would be eligible to work remotely. I think for a proper analysis, the total employees of eligible industries is the only way to get accurate productivity data. I don't see grocery clerks, or general labourers or anyone in the hospitality industry being able to do their job from home. Or people with children, or small apartment, or shotty internet spot - yet these are included in the total data. But, with the right position, and the right employee, the results can be mind blowing!

Khürt L. Williams June 25, 2016 at 6:00 am • Reply

> You are lumping the entire workforce in the US, but only small sections of the workforce would be eligible to work remotely. I think for a proper analysis, the total employees of eligible industries is the only way to get accurate productivity data.

I think that was the most balanced comment. Quite frankly given the nature of the work that I do -- information security -- I don't think I'll be telecommuting anytime soon. My clients don't want me accessing their sensitive systems -- even over a VPN.

Martin August 12, 2015 at 3:26 pm • Reply

Reasons why I think companies would be scared to let people work from home

1. Don't trust them: They will do less work at home and surf Facebook. The thing about SW/dev is that you may take a long time because the problem is hard, or because you slacked off. Therefore by getting people to be present you can avoid the 'they may have slacked off' option.
2. Work should be painful: If they get the same results in 4 hours at home in a quite space as 8 hours in a noisy office, then that would be too nice for them. They need to earn their stripes.
3. Jealousy: People who have to come in to work would be jealous of the software devs and could result in mutany.
4. VIP Visitors: Potential customers, investors or board member candidates don't want to come into an office and see 4 desks. They want to see 100, with lots of busy looking people working hard and a fair bit of noise.
5. Teamwork: Team members should be able to get instant synchronous help from anyone else in the team.
6. Face to face: Seeing people in person is better for rapport building and communication bandwidth.
7. Visibility: Knowing how many hours someone has worked by sight of their physical location at their desk.

Mehmet Hakan August 12, 2015 at 3:32 pm • Reply

This is really great post and maths :) Congratulations!

Elizabeth Beasley August 12, 2015 at 3:42 pm • Reply

I truly enjoyed your article, the numbers don't lie! We have to make working from home the norm and not the exception. Our work/life balance and our environment depend on it!

Marcel August 12, 2015 at 3:44 pm • Reply

I work as Software Engineer in Brazil for a company (Wipro) that allows us to be remote twice a week. It is optional but at least 90% of employees prefer to stay home in these days. At home, I am able to communicate by email, chat or phone (Skype) with my co-workers in Curitiba, Brazil, or with our costumer (Mastercard, St. Louis, USA). And when I am working on-site I also have to use those tools to communicate with the costumer. So, even working on-site, I am working remotely because the customer is in another country.

Sincerely Wipro and Mastercard don't care if we are working from home or in the office. The costumer wants on-time deliveries and quality. That's all. Our team in Brazil has almost one hundred people and we never had any problems with remote working.

Steve August 12, 2015 at 3:44 pm • Reply

Work from home and plan my own schedule, so sometimes will use the train and underground , but mostly I drive to site, which could be 2-3 hours in the rush hour, then across to various sites mostly around london.

different site every day and when doing office work, it is at home.

thanks to the a nameless person, I have no signal on the works phone and am unable to call the colleagues, but see them now and then. in the office maybe twice a year for when changing winter tyres to summer ones - they get stored in the warehouse :)

company car and all commuting costs are business costs, the day starts when I drive or walk to the station and finishes when I return home, so overtime is the day less 8 hours.

driving is easier, diesel car around 50 mpg but not usually check

David Fiedler August 12, 2015 at 3:46 pm • Reply

As someone who's been telecommuting before the word existed (I started writing about technology remotely via Hayes 1200 baud modem in the late 1970s)...I'm totally with you!

Jeremy August 12, 2015 at 3:50 pm • Reply

PRO: I listened to ALL of Joyce's Ulysses while commuting. I would never have actually read the whole the thing myself.

CON: I think commuting may have shortened my life considerably. I'll never really know.

David Wilks August 12, 2015 at 3:59 pm • Reply

Hi Mark! Great article, but the best part was your acknowledgement that there is life outside of the USA! Soooo many American companies cannot see past their borders despite that fact that the major growth markets for most products and services is the APAC region.

Like Wordfence, my businesses are 100% remote. I gave up 'the corner office' in 1992 and have never had reason to regret it. I work long and hard but get to spend quality time with my family every day.

I encourage those that work with me to put 'family time' and 'me time' into their daily schedule. The result is a happy, dedicated team with high productivity. And while I use Worksnaps to monitor time, I very rarely 'look over anyone's shoulder'. I use it mainly for payroll :)

Once again, thanks for an insightful article.

DW

Ben Bernier August 12, 2015 at 4:00 pm • Reply

Hi Mark

Thanks for the great article (and tool, Wordfence, of course).

Yes! I found myself nodding "yes" and agreeing with your points throughout the whole article and your challenge for a good reason to work local got me thinking:

When you are sitting in a room and you look around and you see a group of inspired faces smiling at you, excited and passionate about an idea... the energy is what cannot be appropriately conveyed through remote means.

This is why remote workers often are less happy than their local peers: http://www.forbes.com/sites/davelewis/2015/03/31/the-problem-with-remote-workers/

Obviously I believe this is a problem only for companies that are only unaware that this situation can exist, because if a company is conscious of this they can take special steps to offset that.

Having said that, I have found many companies with remote workers have get togethers occasionally to stimulate this environment, and they often cross their fingers that the team building lasts until the next scheduled event.

When workers are local, the energy and passion of an aspiring team can have a contagious effect that is harder to pass to remote workers.

Thoughts?

Ashley August 12, 2015 at 5:10 pm • Reply

Hi Ben!

As a passer-by who read your comment, I have some thoughts and experiences to share.

I've worked both full-time in offices of young, energetic professionals, and full-time remotely for all-remote companies. While the in-office experience can have the contagious effect you described, I feel that it is very nearly replicable in a remote workplace. How might you ask? With the wonderful myriad of video conferencing and screen sharing tools available in our modern interweb community.

The problem with remote employees is that they are typically not forced to interact with other employees, so they often don't. When leadership actually leads the way (an interesting concept) and initiates regular video conferences among team members, it can build and maintain a similar camaraderie that is found in-office.

If leadership allows remote employees to sink in to the lonely, dark hole that is their solo workplace, and further allows them to stay there, that is what I feel is the root of that remote worker unhappiness.

It takes strong leadership with dedication and genuine interest in the happiness of their employees to keep the remote worker morale high. (Honestly, for office workers too - some office environments become incredibly poisonous to happiness due to a lack of positive, involved leadership.)

But when tools like Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting, and the others Mark described in his article are utilized properly, a remote environment can be just as much a thrill to work in as an energetic office.

Just my thoughts. You bring up a valid point, and it's interesting to see the point of view in the Forbes article.

Best,
Ashley

Ben Bernier August 12, 2015 at 6:35 pm • Reply

You have me convinced Ashley that when well managed, remote working can be as successful socially.

I do think that the imperative words there are "when well managed" and I wonder what percentage of companies do this well...

I'm glad that this article and discussion is helping to educate more people, myself especially.

T Duran August 12, 2015 at 5:15 pm • Reply

As an developer not working in the US -- is Agile software development no longer the thing? My organization (in New Zealand, where many things are 10-20 years behind the US) is just getting into it now, and the methodology (SCRUM in particular) has a very strong emphasis on co-location, with daily stand-ups, pair-programming, etc. The points Ben makes about the energy and efficiency (in the actual positive sense) of people working in the same physical space seem valid in my experience.

So is the having quite time, of course.

Does anyone have experience with a remote-working solution that truly gets you the benefits of working in a high-functioning co-located team?

David Wilks August 12, 2015 at 10:04 pm • Reply

Very surprised you feel NZ is "where many things are 10-20 years behind the US" or are you referring only to the company you are engaged with? The internet, in all its glory, has been available to all of us for 23 years or longer. As I said in an earlier comment, I gave up 'the office' in 1992 and have had technology available since then to help me.

I've been working with remote employees since 1998 and, obviously, the tools just keep getting better and better. I switched to Podio - as our workflow tool - when it first launched (from Basecamp) and it allows us to communicate freely, easily and regularly via comments, chat or video.

These tools are universal, incredibly well supported, and very inexpensive.

BTW, I am in Australia where class leading products like WPMUDEV and Asana call home and both are supporters of remote working. Xero is possibly NZ's greatest success story and it's my understanding that they are also supporters of remote working.

I do think that face to face is important, but it's also very over-rated. Remote workers avoid most, if not all, of the office politics and don't get cornered by the 'coffee room cowboys' five times a day.

Just saying...

T Duran August 14, 2015 at 3:12 pm • Reply

NZ may have had "the Internet" for 20+ years, but broadband penetration is still pretty limited, unless you live in the right parts of the right cities, or want to pay exorbitant prices for usage-capped satellite. I was referring mostly to Agile, though, which I gather peaked a while ago in the US. Just wondered what the new flavour of the month is.

I suspect there may be an age thing going on, as well (just to throw out another grenade). Many of our (non-technical) customers and managers are, er, over 35, and respond better to in person communication, whereas some of our younger developers seem to have a mental block against even picking up the phone. The disconnect has caused problems.

Chris Turner August 12, 2015 at 4:03 pm • Reply

Great post! I long to live a laptop lifestyle. I am working on it for the very reasons that you outline in your post.

Paul August 12, 2015 at 4:11 pm • Reply

Thanks for the great post.

Would you be willing to share a little more information re: the "platinum health-care" benefit you offer?

I'm the cofounder of a small company with a remote-only, US-based workforce. Our PEO told us that under the new rules, we can only offer a group plan to employees based in states where we have a majority of our staff (in other words, we can't offer one.)

As a result, I've had to tell my team that they're on their own to go to their respective healthcare exchanges, sign up for the plan that works best for them, and then negotiate an adjustment to their salary to subsidize the cost.

I'd far prefer to just offer a high-quality group plan. Is that what you guys do? If so, would be grateful for any details you'd be willing to share re how exactly you do it.

Thanks again!

mark August 12, 2015 at 4:23 pm • Reply

Hi Paul. Kerry Boyte (one of the Wordfence founders) set up our health-care program. I'm chatting to her about this right now. We have set up our plan via a nation-wide insurance company, but we're aware of some of the issues around the 50% number. She doesn't have a simple answer, but has suggested you reach out to her at kerry at wordfence-dot-com and you guys start a dialogue.

What I can tell you is that we do have a nation-wide group plan with amazing benefits (I've had a pharmacist comment on how awesome our plan is) - so if we can help a fellow-remote-working-business in any way we're glad to. Please drop her an email at the above address.

If some new info or data emerges from your conversation that may help other remote businesses I'll post it here or put it on the blog.

Mark.

Andrew McFarlane August 12, 2015 at 4:39 pm • Reply

Well framed Mark. We spend a lot of time and money trying to work the edges, but it's the big chunks in the middle that need to be reimagined.

Ashley August 12, 2015 at 4:54 pm • Reply

Brilliant to see the work remote benefits illustrated with hard data. When companies force employees to commute to work for jobs that can absolutely be done remotely, it not only causes disgruntled employees (thus lower productivity and loyalty), it can force them out. This recently happened to me when, after being dedicated to a digital marketing and SaaS firm for 3 1/2 years, we had to relocate to a remote area for my fiance's job. The company refused to let me work remote, so I left. They lost a dedicated employee with a wealth of institutional knowledge, putting a burden on others in my role in other locations to fill the gap I left behind, and I lost a salary and benefits for myself and my family. Being able to work remotely makes for happier, healthier employees, and opens doors to more flexible work solutions for both sides. Thanks for posting some much-needed truth in our industry!

Dave August 12, 2015 at 4:59 pm • Reply

Mark,
Good stuff! I've been telecommuting for years now. What's funny is that in my small city there's a resistance to telecommuting, as well as many other modern activities. :) Even web dev people?!

As soon as I began to read this, I thought of Yahoo's policy, and I see you covered that. I honestly do get the concept of random meetings with colleagues in meatspace which spur creativity, and I do miss some of that.

So yes, we need a middle ground to save our precious resources!

Thanks for that, and your fantastic software!

Dave

Ron August 12, 2015 at 5:22 pm • Reply

Mark,

Thank you so much for this timely article. I commute about an hour and a half round trip each day. I really feel like my health and quality of life is suffering. I never look at the effects the way you described them. If nothing else this is a wake up call for a lifestyle change.

Gerard August 12, 2015 at 5:27 pm • Reply

Great written article I am lucky in some respects I run my own factory based business and i have adjusted the hours to miss out on most of the traffic. I am in the process of getting a web based business going where the commute will be minimal and the life style can jump up a notch.

dr2chase August 12, 2015 at 5:46 pm • Reply

Other numbers that might interest you -- I went looking for trip and commute distance information, and managed to assemble this:
https://dr2chase.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/short-trips-in-cars/
(Commutes are disproportionately long; the average is 12.8 miles; the median is about 8, versus all trips, average is 9.6, median is about 5.)

The effects on health are not at all small. If you take "bicycles to work" as your baseline, driving to work instead boosts your annual mortality risk (using the most conservative result from 5 different studies) by 27%. See http://www.keepeek.com/Digital-Asset-Management/oecd/transport/cycling-health-and-safety_9789282105955-en#page44 (page 44, table 1.2).

I bike to work.

mark August 12, 2015 at 6:14 pm • Reply

Thanks. I used to bike to work in London. I wouldn't be surprised if that increases mortality rates. ;-)

Patricia August 12, 2015 at 6:32 pm • Reply

Great article! I have been noticing a trend of people working longer hours during the week and then having every other Friday off. I know some companies are trying different options and even doing pilot programs of allowing some of their employees to work from home. I now have my own business and work remotely most of the time which I love. I honestly can't imagine going back to a 9-5pm job where I have to drive to and from on a daily basis.

In regards to some who have pointed out that some companies fear they would have employees doing less work at home, I honestly doubt that. I know most of my friends spend just as much time on social media while at work. I agree with others that working remotely simply means having clear goals which should also be a requirement when in the office.

I believe more people should work at home or that improved public transportation should be on the agenda because the traffic is ridiculous in many states.

Jerry August 12, 2015 at 7:09 pm • Reply

I agree the quality of life differences and pollution abatement rewards are sufficient to justify much more remote working. Other business and government benefits include reduced expenses for offices, power, roads, infrastructure, pollution related illness and paid sick-time. Government should incentivis, if not mandate, remote working in order to reduce polution and infrastructure expenses and business should do it to increase productivity and profitability. It's just ignorant not to...

fredsdavis August 12, 2015 at 7:09 pm • Reply

I've worked from home via Internet for the last 12 years. It's better for me, it's better for the planet. I drove my car roughly 5,000 miles last year. At the present rate it'll be even less this year. When I was out on the road my heaviest use was about 35,000. It doesn't take a mathematician to figure out the planet savings.

steven August 12, 2015 at 7:31 pm • Reply

You have touch on a topic that I think will change the world in a big way..
Save the World!
Thanks for this wonderful article.

Brandon Root August 12, 2015 at 9:51 pm • Reply

I find telecommuting is great for a number of reasons, especially saving on gas and wear and tear on the car. I am involved with http://offsite.careers which is a professional networking job site for remote workers. Check it out.

Les Proctor August 12, 2015 at 9:54 pm • Reply

Mark!

Awesome product. Awesome post. I've been working from home since 2006. Love Wordpress. Love Basecamp. I've found I can work better with distributed teams around the world using Upwork... than I did previously with co-workers down the hall. Now I take my dog for a long walk every day around 10:00 a.m. Every other day I stop by our community garden. I eat a nice, clean organic lunch that I prepare myself. Mix in a few things on the honey-do list. I would not trade this for the world.

But I always wondered about how working from home impacted my carbon footprint.

Thanks for doing the research on this...

Escaped Lunatic August 12, 2015 at 10:37 pm • Reply

I spent far too much of my life doing the commuter thing. Most of the time, my drive was about 20 miles, and with each job I could watch the average time creep upwards as traffic increased and more traffic lights were installed to "help" the traffic flow.

Finally, I managed to get into telecommuter land (you might say I escape - ha ha!). Now I can be anywhere in the world I want to be. I chose to be in China. My morning commute from the alarm clock ringing to logging into my computer is usually about 4 minutes. Most of the world thinks I spend 2+ hours each way sitting in traffic jams. :-)

Now I just need to figure out how to spend a little less time with my computer.

EL

Josiah Carberry August 12, 2015 at 11:09 pm • Reply

An organization that is heavily focused on reducing its costs will be more than happy to transfer many of its infrastructure costs to its employees. And it will easily find a series of ancillary "benefits" to convince its employees that working from home is a win-win situation.
But an organization that is heavily focused on making work an order of magnitude more effective and efficient than is commonly the case today, making work a much more humane experience, richer and more rewarding, will structure itself so that its people can work together face to face. Working face to face is NOT a panacea, but it is an enabling factor for a very large number of other benefits.
The organization that does neither is a dinosaur that will soon be extinct, because its competitors will have found ways of working that are so much better.

Adel August 12, 2015 at 11:30 pm • Reply

I've done it all :) From a 15 minute commute, to a 3 hour commute when we worked on a client site for a few months, to working from home.

Each have their costs and benefits.

There are some costs to working from home too. Firstly, the company saves a great deal on office space (which is expensive!) but very seldom pass any of this benefit to the employee.
Sometimes it is more difficult to focus when working from home, as there are more family demands on your time. Now and again, I miss working in the office, simply to get some time to concentrate.
But more importantly, working from home / remote working (or however you brand it) can be a major invasion of your privacy. It is fine if you work for yourself, but people who are employed by someone else are often given no privacy. They are required to do a hundred "small" little things while on annual leave and often receive text messages and phone calls from inconsiderate clients as late as midnight. Their targets are also higher and they end up working a great deal of overtime for no pay.

massj August 13, 2015 at 12:32 am • Reply

I completely agree with your post, Mark.
I am based in Italya. The company I work for has a lot of remote workers, but not in managing roles. I think that managers can work remotely too, with a real time meeting time to time (once or twice a month).
I think that remote working helps to avoid conflicts between collegues, as you not share the same space everyday, while to meet time to time is a kind of positive event.

Anyway I think that live meetings are very important to make remote working... works better.
I have experienced it when meeting our remote workers for the first after several months they joined us. 4 houes has been enough to dramatically increase productivity, cooperation and committment.

I agree with Patricia too on focusing on clear goals. That's the key.

Sean August 13, 2015 at 12:41 am • Reply

It's after 9 in the morning and my wife and I are still in bed, working on our laptops side by side. Ok, I had to get up to fetch the coffee, and I will need to get up again for more and to go for a walk and to do other things, like eat and go for a swim in the sea.

Sure, not everyone can work like this. When I worked on a production line in a car factory I actually had to go to work everyday, but if you can work from home, why not?

There is this amazing invention by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, whats it called again? Oh, yea, the internet, which does in fact allow people to work remotely. The problem I think most companies still have is allowing people to do just that. Not everyone can, someone has to be at the office at some point, and maybe the powers that be are of the thinking that if they can't work from home, then no one can. Or maybe it's just not practical.

But as has been said, if done right, it can and will work. It's just a question of who gets to stay home and who must come to the office. Someone had to get up early, feed the kids, take them to school, commute to the office, get a work order, get in the van and drive to my house to install the cable and modem that connects me to the interweb, thereby allowing me to write this post and run my website and stay in bed until I feel like getting up...

Chris August 13, 2015 at 12:43 am • Reply

Pushing pedals is not unhealthy. Sitting on a sofa with a plate of oreos and staring at a screen is unhealthy. I think the bias you show in your argument undermines the other side of the coin which is that offices are productive, mostly.

Robert August 13, 2015 at 1:13 am • Reply

Work Life Balance and commuting, the eternal debate of whether we should be in the office all of the time or just some of the time.

There are so many things to consider not least of which is how well any individual can work "unaccompanied" i.e. alone at home.

While I was away in SF with a colleague at the WooCommerce Conference last year we worked in hotels, coffee shops and Amazon's pop-up and it was an eye opener.

Talking with Joel Gascoigne @joelgascoigne from Buffer App, his whole organisation is pretty much based on "remote working" see the Buffer blog https://open.bufferapp.com/

Lots to think about, but there's no one size fits all.

Robert

@madman2
@ecommnetltd

Carla August 13, 2015 at 1:32 am • Reply

Intriguing - I work full time for an organisation and around that for myself - my org (a university) hasn't quite reached the ideal of 100% remote working, but I can work anywhere on campus and frequently take myself and my laptop or ipad off away from my shared office when I need peace and quiet. It's a ten minute bike ride from home so I can pop home for lunch if I want to. This works pretty well, but I think more flexibility around being able to work from home at short notice or just because would be lovely.

My previous job was a 4-hour-a-day train commute to London which left me exhausted and constantly ill - and that was just the travelling!

Glad to see more people tackling the issue - I think we're probably on a cusp of change, when people my age are starting to get to management and (hopefully) will be able to try out their views rather than mindlessly complying with the way things have always been.

Saying that, I agree that some jobs just can't be done from home - one of my previous positions in a library had the novel solution of letting us work from different libraries on days where snow prevented us getting to our usual place of work. But you can't serve customers or shelve books from home, sadly...!

Peter Danckwerts August 13, 2015 at 2:13 am • Reply

Despite all the stress and overcrowding, I have to say that i really miss commuting from Richmond in Surrey to central London. I used to leave for work very early and get off halfway to walk. The change of scenery and the exercise were very invigorating.

Trane Francks August 13, 2015 at 4:12 am • Reply

I'm a huge fan of telecommuting. At my previous employer, with whom I worked for 14 years, I spent 7 years as a full-time telecommuter. It was bliss. Because I worked at the Tokyo affiliate and mostly interacted with HQ via e-mail, I could completely work my choice of hours. Most days, that was from 4 a.m. to 12 noon. The rest of the day was mine. Truly bliss.

For the last 5 years, I've spent most of my time tending to servers and other IT infrastructure from the comfort of home, with client visits coming (usually) only on Thursdays and Fridays. The catch is that the visit days are 75-minute commutes each way. That's a pretty typical commute time for the greater Tokyo area. I'm not a fan of the visits, but in this line of work they are unavoidable.

I think the quality of life for a telecommuter can be much higher than somebody who is forced to work on-site daily. That said, I experienced issues with the prior company in which local management became utterly clueless to what I was doing. Despite long job descriptions and successful goal achievements, I was ultimately let go because management didn't see a reasonable ROI. I think it's a common story for a senior engineer during tough economic times, but I was asked to leave.

My concern for telecommuters is that the corporate management style and culture must be completely hip to what telecommuting means. In my case, management made absolutely no effort to keep me in the loop. Moreover, IT regs that disallowed Skype, etc., meant that remote communications with colleagues only happened over e-mail or phone. Without video or other means of adequate face time, one risks becoming a fading memory only to show up as an anomaly during yearly evaluations.

That's kind of long-winded, but the point is that telecommuting can really work wonders, but the entire company structure must be geared towards enabling excellent communication and fostering understanding and trust with regard to work flow processes. Telecommuters need to have a strong sense of self-sufficiency and be certain to not fall into the Dilbertesque image of an engineer with 2 weeks worth of facial hair and a bathrobe that's beginning to smell worse than a dog out in the rain.

Get it right and telecommuting is pure win for everybody.

Grant R. August 13, 2015 at 8:33 am • Reply

Great writing and research. From an employee perspective, I totally agree - great for workers. I work for a company right now that actively disallows working from home, even when you are sick. It's a bad position because of many reasons, but mostly because of its extremity.

The problem though is that you need better business evidence as to why this is GOOD for business. You point out that companies defend traditional positions with intangibles like culture or norms - true - but what else can you say to change their minds? Can you show worker productivity goes up by x%, or revenue increased by x$, or there were fewer employee illnesses? Any of these hard numbers would be much more convincing than environmental reasons or employee benefits.

Just like you used numbers to defend telecommuting from an employee perspective, can you find numbers that defend it from a business perspective?

pennyf August 13, 2015 at 9:36 am • Reply

I am one of the fortunate people that have been working from home for over 20 years. I do not slack off as mentioned above and when I have had to work in an office I have found it very distracting. The only drawback to working at home is that you tend to put in more hours than if you went to an office for a certain amount of time. But I wouldn't want it any other way. I have had numerous offers to work in-house and I always turn them down. I live in a beautiful place, have fast internet and don't have stress from driving in traffic what more do you need.

More companies should give the option of working remotely it just makes sense.

LadyImpactOhio August 13, 2015 at 10:32 am • Reply

I had no idea the WordFence founder had a blog. But now I know.

First off, it he wants to write about a POLITICALLY CHARGED topic, it should be done on his own personal website, and NOT on a work one. His views should be his own and not tossed upon his customers.

Second, as one poster commented, this should be personal choice. Things have gotten a lot better over the years environmentally in the U. S. If the writer wants to go after a couple countries, it should be China and Brazil who are the worst polluters.

I'm happy with WordFence but this really disappoints me.

Joan August 16, 2015 at 4:31 am • Reply

Is there a professional society dedicated to working remotely? Not only for software engineers but also for other professionals and remote workers? If we had a professional organization, non-profit society, dedicated to advancing and supporting the needs and development of a remote workforce, we'd move this along faster. I've been in non-profit association management field for the last 23 years (much of that from a remote office and for the last 10 years located in Europe working mostly with clients in the USA) and would be happy to start something like this if the need isn't currently being met. I do believe that within the next 10 years, many downtown office buildings will have to be converted to condominiums because eventually the tide will turn, the technology is certainly there.

JanefromCanada August 21, 2015 at 8:27 am • Reply

In addition to enhanced employee morale, we would see fewer widespread flu/colds, fewer traffic tue-ups (better flow) and built-in business continuity and disaster recovery (employees and resources are nicely dispersed in telecommuting scenarios. You'd still need redundancies on home office resources, of course).

Great article. Hoping the right people are paying attention...

Gwyneth Llewelyn September 6, 2015 at 5:48 pm • Reply

Great analysis, great points! We live in Alvin Toffler's Third Wave indeed. Like some of the commenters, I also spent the largest part of my past 20 years as a telecommuter. It started as a way of keeping a day job while working on my own start-up at the same time, and progressed to a point where well over 90% of all work-related issues would easily be resolved from home. One curious incident was when I was forced to 'exile' myself on an island in the middle of the Atlantic, 1000 km away from our HQ, and one month later, one of my colleagues from marketing one day sent me an email asking if I could attend a face-to-face meeting on the next day. I told her I was 1000km and a third of an ocean away, so I had to answer 'no'. She was immensely surprised, since she didn't have a clue — as I had been doing exactly was I did every day for a month or so, just being far away instead of on the desk at the other end of the open office space, she did not even notice that I hadn't been physically present all the time :-)

About a decade afterwards, I was successfully running a company with HQs in Lisbon and New York with a staff of some 30 or so people, all around the world — from Australia to Canada to Argentina — and most of us never met personally. Our 'offices' where actually only physical addresses required for tax purposes; we almost never physically met there, and, in fact, I never physically met my partners in New York. That didn't mean that the company ran less smoothly than some of our direct competitors which were conventional companies. It did mean we needed to juggle with timezones a lot, and it wasn't totally easy to get work done across twelve different timezones, but we certainly managed to do it quite well — all thanks to a lot of discipline and good tools.

In any case, I agree that not all jobs are suitable for telecommuting; only many white-collar jobs without absolutely any requirement of physical presence with customers/colleagues are appropriate for that. Even though most of the Western world has shifted towards a service-oriented society, this still leaves quite a lot of jobs that require physical presence.

In my country, this past week saw finally some legislation regarding telecommuting being passed. The major reason for that was to allow employees to legally demand the right to telecommute, assuming their work can effectively be done at home. For example, in the case of parents needing to stay at home with sick children, assuming that their work can be done remotely, they can now legally claim the right to stay at home (at least partially) and work from there. Similarly, employers not having enough office space to accommodate further employees are allowed to 'demand' from new employees that part of their time is spent telecommuting.

These are small steps towards a telecommuting world, but we're getting there!

Mike October 16, 2015 at 10:05 am • Reply

I'm late in my career and spent many years commuting to an office with my butt in my seat at 8:00 AM. All this to talk on the phone and utilize the company computer system. What an incredible waste of time and resources.

Now luckily, I have a internet based business and utilize the Wordfence plugin to babysit client websites and my work satisfaction is just so much higher.

here is a key point that others have touched on.

There are talented people who are home-bound by choice or by disability or family obligations. These individuals are huge untapped talent resource for innovative companies like Wordfence and Automattic or even lower tech companies that need assistance with bookeeping, customer service etc or office administration.

The cost savings on office space, transportation costs, workforce stress ( yes, certain types thrive in an office environment and others dislike it) health benefits by eating meals in your home all add up.

The tools for a distributed workforce are available and it's up to employers to see the opportunity. I'm just appreciative that I can participate.

Khürt L. Williams June 25, 2016 at 4:57 am • Reply

This article sat in my Pocket list for over a year before I finally read it. I think it is very well written and I agree with many of your points.

Unfortunately I live in a state, New Jersey, that is both metro and rural. We are equidistance from Philadelphia and Manhattan. Some towns are large and and many others are small and rural. We have several rail lines but they only really serve the middle and eastern section of the state.

Currently I am working as an information security consultant which means my clients want me on site. Which of course means commuting. Which in New Jersey of course means I own a car and drive 14 miles (about 28 minutes) to the client location. The automobile commute time in New Jersey can be approximately computed by multiplying the travel distance by 2.

With a rural but metropolitan character, the central park of the state has numerous streams and parks. Building out more public transportation would be a challenge and could mean either the removal of existing highways (to put rail lines) or the removal of forests with the possible destruction of streams and rivers.

A few years ago I researched options for getting to work without a car. At that time, I commuted about 9.5 miles (about 20 minutes). I found that there was a bus I could take from my neighborhood. I had to walk to the bus (~ 10 min. walk, which could be a challenge in rain and snow). The bus would take me to the train station in Princeton (~ 10 min. ride) where I could take the train over to West Windsor (~10 min. ride). From West Windsor I would take another bus (~20 min. ride) to my final destination. After poring over the train and bus schedule I realized that my ~20 minute commute would double to 40 min.

More public transportation is not really a practical solution in many cities in New Jersey due to how housing and towns have already developed (clusters of housing surrounded by parks). The only commuters who benefit from the existing rail lines and bus routes in New Jersey are commuters to Manhattan and Philadelphia. The rest of us buy a car.

The only practical solution to New Jersey's congested high-ways is remote work.

Get the latest WordPress security updates and news

Sign up for WordPress security alerts, Wordfence product updates and security news via email.