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February 2006

Dialing in: staffers save gas, time by working from home

Heidi Godsil
Heidi Godsil working from her home office near Nederland. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

Four days a week, Heidi Godsil does graphic design work for COMET in her FL3 office. But on Tuesdays, she works in her house in Nederland.

"It's nice to have one day a week when I don't have to drive down to Boulder," she says. "It saves me some money in gas and saves commuting time." Plus, she adds, "I get a lot done."

Heidi's experience is a common one at UCAR. Many staffers, taking advantage of technologies that enable them to access their computer files from remote locations, occasionally work out of their homes to cut back on commuting or to focus on particular tasks without being interrupted by meetings. For the organization, telecommuting is part of a package of flexible work situations that boosts employee satisfaction while also reducing car emissions in the area.

Now that gas prices are above $2 per gallon and area traffic is getting heavier, more staffers are thinking about telecommuting and other options to cut down on the amount of time they spend in their cars. Karl Hanzel of the Transportation Alternatives Program thinks the organization could put a greater focus on the advantages of telecommuting.

"We can show the world how much we care about the environment," he says.

Not for everyone

The organization does not track the number of staffers who telecommute. Even though staffers can use virtual private network (VPN) software to download UCAR files from home, Katy Schmoll, UCAR vice president for finance and administration, cautions that telecommuting is not feasible for many employees. Some staffers need to be onsite to perform their jobs. Others, who would like to spend time with small children at home, should not use telecommuting as a substitute for daycare, Katy says.

"Telecommuting is an option, but it is not available to everyone," she explains. "It is a relatively small part of UCAR's policy to promote environmentally good business practices."

In general, a supervisor has the discretion to allow a staffer to telecommute if the staffer's job tasks can be performed outside the office and if he or she has the motivation and job knowledge to work effectively from home. HR policies spell out these requirements in more detail (see On the Web).

Staffers who are looking for other options to save gas can take advantage of such UCAR benefits as free bus passes, the UCAR shuttle service, the organization's fleet of blue bicycles, and flexible work hours.

As UCAR president Rick Anthes sees it, "We have a lot of programs in place that can help conserve energy and save money for the employee and the organization. They don't all work for everybody, but there should be something there for almost the entire staff."

Among the most successful telecommuting stories is that of RAL's Tom Saxen. When he and his wife decided to move back to Minnesota five years ago to be closer to their family, his supervisor asked him if he'd be interested in full-time telecommuting.

"I actually think it's worked out pretty well," Tom said in an interview from his home office in Burnsville, a suburb of Minneapolis. "I greatly appreciate the flexibility. It's a wonderful thing to be able to do this."

As an associate scientist working with the Auto-Nowcast group, Tom works with scientists and software engineers to improve existing algorithms in the nowcasting system and develop new ones. He travels to Boulder about every six weeks to meet with the team, and also travels regularly to other sites that are running the nowcasting system.

He sees both pluses and minuses to such intense telecommuting. "The biggest advantage that I found is you don't get caught up in every ad hoc meeting. You have more time to actually focus on the work," he says. On the other hand: "Sometimes the distractions are good. I don't have the ability to just run down the hall to talk to so-and-so and say I'm having a problem with something. Instead, I need to either pick up the phone or send an e-mail."

EO's Dennis Ward has a more typical telecommuting experience. He drives to his office in Center Green three or four days a week, but works at his home in Erie the rest of the time.

An education technologist who creates Web pages and develops programs for primary and secondary school teachers based on UCAR and NCAR science, Dennis likes working at home because he can concentrate on his tasks.

"Part of the appeal of telecommuting has to do with the ability to work quietly, without the distractions of the office," he says. "For some of the writing and more creative things I do, it helps to be in some quiet place."

Like many of his colleagues, he said he also wants to do his part to cut down on area pollution. As he sees it, "The less I come into town, the less of an ecological impact I have."

• by David Hosansky

On the Web

UCAR's telecommuting policies

Also in this issue...

Dialing in: staffers save gas, time by working from home

New Scientists I have diverse interests

UCAR takes avian flu precautions
Staying Healthy

Random Profile: Will Piper

2006 AMS awards

Delphi Question: Delphi confidentiality

Sunrise project

Just One Look


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