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DISTRIBUTED: How Distributed Work Benefits Society (As In the Whole Wide World)

In our last two blogs, we detailed the advantages distributed work offers both businesses and their employees. However these benefits extend far beyond the business world. In fact, we’d go so far as to say the distributed trend is benefitting everyone—as in society as a whole.

“Numerous studies find that telecommuting can lead to many economic benefits that accrue to workers, consumers, businesses and society,” states a report by the American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research. “[Telecommuting] could lead to less pollution and oil consumption for society, increased benefits for consumers, and a better work life balance and opportunities for the employees, especially for the disabled, stay-at-home parents, and rural residents.”

Here are just a few of the major societal benefits:

Benefit to Society #1: A Breath of Fresh Air

Distributed businesses conserve energy and reduce fuel consumption and pollution. Since remote teams don’t require brick-and-mortar offices, wasteful after hours heating and cooling is eliminated. Instead, employees simply heat and cool their home offices—which would be heated and cooled regardless.

According to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), telecommuting saves 9 to 14 billion kilowatt-hours of energy each year—roughly the amount of energy needed to power 1 million U.S. households annually.

Since remote employees don’t commute to work every day, distributed businesses also help reduce greenhouse gases and conserve tons upon tons of oil. If employees with telework-compatible jobs who want to work from home did so just half of the time, the U.S. would reduce greenhouse gases by 54 million tons—the equivalent of taking almost 10 million cars off the road for a full year. Our nation would also save more than 640 million barrels of oil valued at more than $64 billion, according to Global Workplace Analytics.

Benefit to Society #2: Giving Our Roads a Break

The distributed trend also relieves pressure on our nation’s crumbling highways and interstates. According to Global Workplace Analytics, less than six percent of U.S. city’s roads have kept pace with the droves of commuters over the past decade. If traffic continues to grow at its current rate, we’ll need to build another 104,000 miles of new road—which will cost our nation $530 billion. However, if more companies were to embrace remote work, it would give our nation’s disintegrating transportation infrastructure a much-needed break—and save tax payers billions of dollars.

Benefit to Society #3: Encouraging Family Values

Nearly half of American workers say they are willing to take a pay cut to telecommute or have a flexible work schedule—primarily because it would improve their personal lives and make them better parents, according to survey sponsored by Mom Corps.

“The way the majority of corporate America works no longer aligns with the way U.S. families conduct their daily lives,” Allison O’Kelly, founder and CEO of Mom Corps, points out in a press release. “Participating in some form of flexible work option allows employees to regain a modicum of work/life balance, and successful companies know that this also can yield a significant return on investment for them.”

At YourTime.Intridea.com, we showcase examples of what our team members do with the time they save by not commuting to an office every day. Many of our employees spend those extra hours with their children, partners and other loved ones.

For example, Andy Wang says he spends time, “taking care of my baby girl and playing games with her every day.” Ben Markowitz writes, “As the father of three small children, there are so many moments I get to be a part of. I was able to see my son’s first steps, see my daughter off to her first day of dance class, and greet her every day when she gets home from preschool.”

“Every day I walk my son home from school,” Marc Garrett says. “We throw rocks, talk about girls, and keep an eye out for dragons—all those things fathers and sons do if you don’t have to worry about sitting in traffic. I can’t imagine spending that time any other way.”

Benefit to Society #4: Saving Lives

Because distributed businesses keep their employees off the roads, these companies are literally saving lives. Global Workplace Analytics reports that telework could save more than 1,600 lives, prevent nearly 99,000 injuries and save more than $12 billion a year in traffic accident costs—and that’s just if workers with telework-compatible jobs worked from home half the time.

Benefit to Society #5: Protecting Our Sanity

Sitting in traffic is literally driving commuters crazy, according to a study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. Using data from two national surveys, researchers found negative responses to daily stresses such as conflicts at work or sitting in traffic led to psychological distress or anxiety and mood disorders ten years later. In other words, everyday irritations like sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic can make you slowly lose your mind.

Benefit to Society #6: Down with Discrimination

Whether intentional or not, discrimination, nepotism and favoritism still run rampant in the workplace. Since distributed teams rarely work face-to-face, employees and managers are less likely to judge their colleagues by their appearance.

“Virtual interaction seems to be effective at reducing various kinds of discrimination within team members,” writes Joe Willmore in “Managing Virtual Teams” (Spiro Press, 2003). “With visual stimuli removed, the focus is more on content and less on the person generating the content.”

Benefit to Society #7: Putting Retirees Back to Work

The majority of retirees want to keep working, but they also want the flexibility to enjoy retirement. More than one-third of retired workers say that if they would have had the option to work part-time or work from home, it would have encouraged them to keep working, according to Global Workplace Analytics.

“Holding a job in retirement is becoming more necessary, and re-entering the job market through a telecommuting job is a fantastic option,” writes Brie Weiler Reynolds, the Content and Social Media Manager at FlexJobs. Many distributed businesses are attracting highly skilled retirees back into the working world.

Benefit to Society #8: Business as Usual, Even after a Disaster

Distributed businesses enjoy continuity of operations in the event of an avian flu outbreak, inclement weather, earthquakes or other disasters. Three quarters of teleworkers say they could continue to work in the event of a disaster compared with less than one-third of non-teleworkers, Global Workplace Analytics reports.

"More employers put telework policies in place after 9/11 and various natural disasters," says Susan Bergman, MA, SPHR, The Society for Human Resource Management’s director of the Knowledge Center. “Today, employers see remote work capabilities as key to keeping their business operating when there are disruptions."

Thanks to these valuable advantages, business leaders are realizing that building a remote workforce isn’t just an awesome employee incentive or a smart way to boost the company’s bottom line—it’s also a social responsibility.

Want to learn more about what makes distributed teams tick? Don’t miss our next blog on the power of asynchronous communication.

Does your company work remote? Keep the conversation going! We'd love to hear from you.

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