OK, Telecommuting is Green, What about Skype and IM?


my desktop with Skype "water cooler" at right

We have written often that working from home is green. I was asked to write a guest post for No Impact Man about whether using Skype or other chat software to keep in constant touch with your co-workers was green, and concluded that anything that makes it easier to work at home and keep in touch would encourage more people and companies to do it, which was a good green objective. I explained how well a Skype "water cooler" works for us at TreeHugger, but it was anecdotal.

Now there is proof: a new study by IBM and MIT demonstrates that workers who maintain online connections to their bosses produce more than those who don't.


from our Best of Green: Best Telecommuting Technology: Skype

At No Impact Man, I described what happened when three of us opened up our private little chat world to others:

It is no longer a water cooler where we hang around and gripe; it has become an essential part of the operation. It isn't really a conference room either, but is more like a virtual cube farm, with us poking our heads up above the partitions when there is something to discuss. It isn't as freewheeling as it used to be; Essentially, we are at the office and have to act like people do at offices, constrained in our discussions by the fact that there is a record of what we are saying and a lot of eyes listening.

Editor Meg says "I don't think I could do my job without it at this point. It's become an essential tool in my work-from-home kit, to the point where I tell people in 'real life' stories about things we talk about in the water cooler as if it were a real meeting place. My husband frequently interjects to explain that I'm talking about a virtual place, but to me it's as concrete as anywhere i go, except i only have walk up the stairs of my house to get there."

I have never actually met many of the people I work with, but I know about their dogs and their surgery. Meg is right; when you have this level of communication it quickly becomes as real and concrete as any place you have ever worked. We are not web workers or home workers or telecommuters; when the water cooler is on, I am at the office.


Ars Technica looks at the MIT/IBM study:

The researchers analyzed the e-mail traffic, buddy lists, social networking friends, and everything in between of 2,600 anonymized IBM consultants over 12 months in order to draw their conclusions. They then compared their communication patters against their performance in billable hours. Those who maintained constant communications averaged an increase in revenue of $588 per month over the average, while those who did not produced $98 per month less than the average.

They put in numbers what we knew intuitively- good communication enhances efficiency, and efficiency is green.

Read the PDF report here

More on home working, shed working, telecommuting or whatever it is called:
TreeHugger Picks: Telecommuting
IBM Letting Up to 20% of Workforce Telecommute
Telecommuting is Green and Saves Money, but Most Employers still Resist it
World Wildlife Fund Looks at Telecommuting as Carbon Emissions Solution

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