11/07/2012 01:02 pm ET Updated Jan 07, 2013

President Obama: Make Flexible Work a Priority

With Hurricane Sandy still fresh in our minds and the 2012 election over, President Obama should take this opportunity to advance the need for telecommuting and flexible work options in our nation's businesses.

Just as the first Obama Administration enacted the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, which made telecommuting a priority in federal agencies, President Obama needs to encourage businesses large and small across the country to adopt telecommuting and flexible work policies.

Why did the federal government so openly adopt telecommuting in the first place? Telework addresses three key issues: emergency preparedness, cost savings, and employee satisfaction. The government sites the strategic value of telecommuting for organizations as follows:

  • Ensuring continuity of operations
  • Reducing management costs
  • Improving employees' ability to balance their work and life commitments

After its first full year, the Telework Enhancement Act released reported that the program is an overwhelming success. Businesses across the country should take note that, in particular, all government agencies report, "Teleworkers are more likely to report knowing what is expected of them on the job and feeling as though they are held accountable for results... and are also more likely to report feeling empowered."

Now that telework is an official -- and successful -- government policy, it's time for President Obama to encourage the private sector to follow suit. In situations like Hurricane Sandy, business operations can come to a stand still if people are unable to get to the office, and unequipped to work from home. There is absolutely no reason that the economy should take a hit because our nation's businesses won't use the available technology and resources to make their workforces mobile and prepared. Telework is absolutely in the nation's best interest.

With a proper telecommuting program in place, businesses can continue to operate successfully throughout emergencies without putting employees at risk trying to get to the office, or wasting time in prolonged commutes. During the first week after Sandy, commutes in the affected areas tripled in length because of major issues with mass transit and traffic congestion. Rather than sitting in traffic for two-plus hours, workers can remain safe, sound, and productive in their home offices.

The main thing that holds most companies back from implementing telecommuting and other flexible work policies is fear. Fear that employees will slack off if working from home, fear that managing them will be more difficult, and fear that productivity will slip. But studies from Stanford University, the University of Minnesota, and many others over the last two years have consistently found that telecommuters are more productive than their office-bound colleagues. Unfounded fear should never be a reason for businesses to avoid sound, cost-effective policies that benefit their employees, their budgets, and the economy as a whole.

As I've pointed out in other posts, telecommuting and flexible work can actually help companies grow their workforces without adding extra costs. And during emergency situations, the key to a successful and quick business recovery is to already have telecommuting plans in place, so everyone knows what to do and how to do it when an emergency strikes.

President Obama: Place a priority on encouraging businesses to adopt telecommuting and flexible work policies. They're good for business, good for the economy, and good for our country's workforce. And if the federal government can successfully implement a wide-scale telecommuting program, businesses should be able to do the same.