2008-04-10

Is telecommuting an option?

After being back from sabbatical for three days, I feel like I am back in the swing of things. I already have a trip to California scheduled for later this month and a ton of things to keep me busy. I have to give credit to those on my team that filled in for me while I was away. Without them, my return would have been a much rougher experience.

Everything at home is also getting back to normal, which is a terrible way to describe a life with four kids. There isn’t much that is normal, but I love every minute of it. Beth had to run to Houston tonight to pick up our nieces and nephew. The plan is for me to get the kids off to school and go on to work. Emma isn’t feeling well, so I may be working from home with a sick kid. That’s the beauty of the internet though; I can work anywhere I can get an internet connection. All of my phone numbers route to a single cell phone, so the transition from the office to the home office is nearly seamless. This brings me to another topic: Gas Prices.

I was talking with my life-long friend Aaron tonight about the cost of commuting. I did some numbers in the back of my head while we were talking but I wanted to see what the real numbers were. I opened up Excel and here are the results. I drive 26 miles one way to get to work with an average mpg of 16. (I know this is low, but I love my Suburban.) With gas at $3.20 per gallon and assuming I drive to work 5 days per week for 50 weeks each year, my annual cost for gas just to get to work is $2,600. By working from home just one day per week, I can save around $520 per year and reduce the miles on my car from 13k per year to 10.4k per year. That sounds like a pretty compelling argument to start working from home when possible.

2 comments:

Ben W. Brumfield said...

Or to change jobs/houses so that this isn't as much of a factor.

My commute to the office is 2.4 miles, one-way. Dropping the daughter off/picking her up at her daycare adds another 6 miles to that trip. Since we alternate morning/evening dropoff/pickup, my round-trip commute averages 12 miles, or half a gallon of gas per day.

This makes me wonder if it's possible to factor that difference ($2000/year between me and you) into real estate prices? $2K*30 years = $60,000. I'm sure that math is all wrong somehow due to present value of money and stuff, but I do wonder.

Then there's the time issue. Here we get into comparing tangibles with intangibles, which humans are notioriously bad at. There was a great article on "Extreme Commuters" (and you don't come close to qualifying against these 3-hour-each-way people, Dax) in the New Yorker last year:

Three years ago, two economists at the University of Zurich, Bruno Frey and Alois Stutzer, released a study called “Stress That Doesn’t Pay: The Commuting Paradox.” They found that, if your trip is an hour each way, you’d have to make forty per cent more in salary to be as “satisfied” with life as a noncommuter is. (Their data come from Germany, where you’d think speedy Autobahns and punctual trains would bring a little Freude to the proceedings, and their methodology is elaborate and thorough, if impenetrable to the layman, relying on equations like U=α+ß₁D+ß₂D²+γX+δ₁w+δ₂w²+δ₃log y.) The commuting paradox reflects the notion that many people, who are supposedly rational (according to classical economic theory, at least), commute even though it makes them miserable. They are not, in the final accounting, adequately compensated.

“People with long journeys to and from work are systematically worse off and report significantly lower subjective well-being,” Stutzer told me. According to the economic concept of equilibrium, people will move or change jobs to make up for imbalances in compensation. Commute time should be offset by higher pay or lower living costs, or a better standard of living. It is this last category that people apparently have trouble measuring. They tend to overvalue the material fruits of their commute—money, house, prestige—and to undervalue what they’re giving up: sleep, exercise, fun.

“They have to trade off social goods for material goods,” Stutzer said. “This is very difficult for people. They make systematic mistakes. We are very good at predicting whether we’ll like something but not at knowing for how long.” People adapt to a higher living standard but not to social isolation. Frey and Stutzer infer that some people, even when the costs become clear, just lack the will power to change. “People have limited self-control and insufficient energy, inducing some people to not even try to improve their lot,” they write. In this regard, they say, commuting resembles smoking and failing to save money.

bethy said...

Ok so Ben has valid point BUT moving is not an option ;) Maybe find a job closer to home is.... but right now with De finishing her first year in the Hays Dyslexic Program and making huge strides toward being a reader...We are ATTACHED to this school district. Plus, I am pretty attached to the people....it really feels like home! OH and you know I am not leaving another place before I get to enjoy all the new construction when finished mainly "TARGET" :)