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By Jack Ganssle

Working From Home

Published 2/18/2008

Last week's election-day ice storm in Maryland nearly paralyzed major traffic arteries. Peaking around the evening commute, it caused shutdowns on routes 95, 895, 50 and 32. One friend's usual 45 minute drive took just under five hours

My commute time didn't change. It takes about 15 seconds to walk from the office to the living room regardless of weather.

A friend who works from home complains that he never gets a snow day.

According to the Census Bureau (http://www.census.gov/acs/www/Products/Ranking/2002/R04T160.htm) commute times range from 16 minutes in Corpus Christi to 38 minutes in New York City. 16 minutes isn't bad, but of the 69 cities listed twenty score 25 minutes or more. That's more than half a work day of lost time every week, or some 12.5 days a year. A dozen wasted days is more annual vacation time than most Americans get.

25 minutes on the road probably equates to at least 8,000 miles a year. The average fuel efficiency is 23 MPG (http://www.bts.gov/publications/national_transportation_statistics/html/table_04_23.html) so those 8k miles cost over $1000/year just in gas. The IRS allows deductions of 48.5 cents/mile for business travel, so one could reasonably argue that the cost to drive 8k miles (once one factors in depreciation and other costs) is more like $4000. Per year.

Prior to the industrial revolution there were neither cars nor trains. People had to work pretty close to their homes. But factories concentrated capital into buildings where workers had to go to earn a living. Commuting started.

With the Internet and electronics revolutions many pundits predicted the demise of centralized "factories," especially for knowledge workers who don't need to be physically close to big and expensive machinery. But it doesn't seem to have worked out that way. The vast majority of the engineers I know, if not self-employed, still battle traffic to and from the office every day.

Ironically, a lot of the at-home jobs created by the telecommunications revolution are low-paid, low-skilled "opportunities" like telemarketing, customer support, and click fraud.

Collaborative work and the need for specialized and expensive equipment means commuting won't go away for most engineers. But one can't help but wonder how many of us can work from home at least a day or two a week, saving gas, pollution, money and frustration.

What's your take?