Georgia Steps Up Telework Week to Offer Tips for Companies, Workers

Georgia Steps Up Telework Week to Offer Tips for Companies, Workers

Image CC licensed by Flickr user _e.t

About 150 companies offered their support for telework last year during Georgia's inaugural Telework Week. That event was largely designed to raise awareness about the virtues of telework and overcome that perennial barrier: management resistance.

Organizers of this year's upcoming Telework Week, taking place Sept. 12-16, expect a similar number of companies to pledge their support, but plan to move the event from education to action with a half-day summit on September 15 in Atlanta that will offer local companies tools, best practices and advice on what makes a successful telework program.

Georgia has earned some cred in the teleworking world: In 2007, it became the first state to offer companies telework tax breaks.

Those tax breaks get a lot of credit for growing the number of teleworkers in Georgia by 35 percent between 2007 and 2010. All told, some 600,000 Georgia workers telecommute, but many more could potentially work from home or some other off-site location.

According to the Clean Air Campaign, which is partnering with Georgia Governor Nathan Deal for Telework Week, as many as 350,000 workers in the Atlanta area have jobs suitable for teleworking but still clock in hours at the office. Even so, Microsoft named Atlanta the most teleworking-friendly city in the country just a few months ago.

Those tax breaks are one casualty of the sputtering economy. In place since the 2008 tax year, they haven't been extended to 2012, according to Mike Williams, the Clean Air Campaign's director of employer services.

I caught up with Williams ahead of the second Telework Week, and he told me he believes the expiration of the tax credit will mean fewer employers launching new telework programs, but "not by a tremendous amount."

"The total aggregate amount of credit per year was capped at $2.5 million, so if 50 employers were approved for the credit, on average they would each receive $50,000 in credit," Williams told me. "The absence of a $50,000 credit is not enough to prevent a large employer from launching a program since other paybacks are much larger."

Reducing real estate costs through a telework program would likely save a large firm more than that $50,000 credit, he said.

"If they could get a 20 percent boost in worker productivity -- again, that would be worth a lot more than $50,000."

Operational continuity also makes for an effective business case for telework, according to Melanie Wiggins, a biologist and employee transportation coordinator working in the Atlanta office of CH2M Hill. The company increased its full-time teleworkers by 36 percent last year, compared to the year before.

Wiggins pointed to a snowstorm earlier this year that brought the Atlanta area to a standstill, but she was able to continue working from home.

"There were five days I couldn't come into the office because we were literally iced in," Wiggins said.

There are of course other benefits to teleworking that we've reported on in the past here at GreenBiz.com. Research has found that allowing one of your workers to telecommute, for example, is equivalent to giving him or her a $6,500 raise.

Plus, there are the productivity gains and enhancements in work-life balance that are so often noted in teleworker surveys. Here's one comment from last year's inaugural Georgia Telework Week:

"I cut out a commute that lasted 45 minutes in the morning and about an hour at night. I have more time with my family."

Image CC licensed by Flickr user _e.t.