• United States

Bottom-up telework

Mar 01, 20043 mins
Enterprise Applications

Telework Coalition pushes to extend pre-tax savings plans to include telecommuting-related expenses

Last week  we looked at “Better Work through Telework,” a new program the Washington Council of Governments hopes will increase telework in the Metro D.C. region from the “top down” by targeting C-level executives.

The announcement drew a spirited response from Telework Coalition (Telcoa) founders Chuck Wilkser and John Edwards, who say COG’s own research proves a “bottom up” approach would be more effective. The 2001 State of the Commute Survey found 68.3% of non-telecommuters wanted to do so occasionally or regularly.

 Here are some “bottom up” initiatives Telcoa is pushing. Some would make fine additions to COG’s Commuter Connections  program. Others need to make their way onto telework advocate Rep. Frank Wolf’s (R-Va.) desk.

  • Disallow downtown parking expenses from Metro D.C. employees’ pre-tax savings plans. Typically, companies let employees set up a spending account where they set aside a portion of their pre-tax earnings for specific expenses such as doctor visits and prescriptions. In Metro D.C., you can set aside money to pay for downtown parking, which encourages employees to drive to work. Kill it, but keep the allowance for parking at Metro stations.

  • Include telecommuting-related expenses to pre-tax savings plans. Let employees set aside pre-tax earnings to pay for broadband, an extra phone line, ergonomic office furniture, a lockable file cabinet, rental space at a telework center or other drop-in facility, and the like.

  • Extend pre-tax savings plans. Let employees use it to pay for membership fees of ride-matching services such as NuRide to commuter clubs and services such as Teletrips  that track miles not driven so employers can earn pollution credits.

  • Encourage the home-office deduction. Afraid it will flag their tax return for audit, most teleworkers don’t take the home-office deduction. Remedy this by creating an IRS T1 form (T for telecommute) the employee includes with his tax return stating he is a telecommuter working from home as a condition of employment. Canada already has such a system.

  • Hold an annual Commuter Challenge Competition  among employers. Similar to the competition held in Canada among its cities, this is a friendly way to encourage employers to allow telework.

  • Help employees make a case. Offer tools and resources to help workers convince the boss to let them telecommute or telework from office space much closer to home. Edwards offers an example of an employee benefits calculator .

  • Provide employers with proximity commuting analysis. Employers who aren’t keen on telework and who have multiple area offices can still save employee vehicular miles. Figure out where employees work in relation to where they live and reshuffle them so they spend at least part of the week at the office closest to their homes.

  • Encourage desk swapping. Save vehicular miles and bolster business continuity plans by encouraging local governments and non-competing companies (like AOL and Lockheed Martin) to pair up and share workspace so employees can work closest to home.