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Gas shortage spurs telework in southeast U.S.

Companies expanding telework participation to offset fuel crunch

By , Network World
September 30, 2008 04:06 PM ET

Network World - Gas shortages in the southeast United States are prompting companies to consider expanding their telework programs so employees can conserve fuel. Other options workers are weighing include greater use of carpools and public transit, along with alternative scheduling arrangements such as four-day work weeks.

Listen to our Newsmaker of the Week podcast: Telework rises as gas gets scarce

In the Atlanta area, the current gas shortage is the latest energy-related issue that's getting companies to redouble their efforts to formalize or expand telework programs, says Mike Williams, director of programs and employer services for The Clean Air Campaign, a nonprofit organization that works with Georgia employers, commuters and schools to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality.

"For companies that are working to formalize a telework program, it's an added reason for them to act more quickly," Williams says. "For companies that have an informal telework arrangement going on, it's another way for us to bring up reasons why they need to formalize those programs."

But, he added, due diligence is important. "We're not trying to get people to react immediately to the gas shortage and just start teleworking."

Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina are among the states hardest hit by gas shortages brought on by hurricane damage to the oil-refining regions of the Gulf Coast.

Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, which made U.S. landfall on Sept. 1 and Sept.13, respectively, decimated fuel production from the Gulf of Mexico. As of Sept. 29, more than 57% of crude oil production capacity in the Gulf of Mexico was still out of commission (down from 89% on Sept. 22), and two refineries remained completely shut down, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

For residents in the southeast United States, the result is long gas lines and scores of service stations with no gas.

Last week, one Georgia official issued a call for greater teleworking in response to the shortage. John Oxendine, commissioner of insurance and safety fire for the state, announced that any employees in his department whose job responsibilities don't require them to be physically present at the state office building can telework until the gasoline shortage ends.

He also called on other state agencies to do the same. "As leaders of this state, we are obligated to find ways to relieve the burden of this gasoline shortage off the backs of taxpayers," Oxendine said in a statement. "By allowing additional state employees to work from their homes, this action should help reduce some of the strain on our gasoline supply and benefit those in the public and private sectors who are unable to telework."

Outside the region most impacted by gas shortages, companies are are making workplace changes to combat commuting burdens.

The IT department at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health just expanded its telework program to let staff work from home two days per week instead of the one day previously allowed. Gas prices certainly played a role in the decision, says Ross McKenzie, director of IT at the Baltimore school.

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