Lengthy and demanding commutes overwhelmed hundreds of Los Angeles County employees, some of whom spent upwards of five hours each day in their cars. The unproductive wasted time translated into productivity loss for this sprawling California County and diminished its employees' quality of life. In the search for affordable housing, many families find themselves living a considerable distance from their place of employment. The time-consuming commutes drastically reduced the available time for family in an era when most households are either headed by either a single parent or two working parents. Employees are stressed from long commutes and from juggling between work and family schedules, with little time left to spend with their friends and relatives.
Michael Antonovich, the Fifth District Supervisor of the County of Los Angeles, proposed taking advantage of recent improvements in communications technology to reduce the commuting demands on the County's employees. In 1989, a formal Telecommuting Program was adopted by the County with the goal of creating a more productive workforce. The County's Telecommuting Program allows a wide range of County employees to work out of their homes or report to work at a location near their home rather than reporting to a central headquarters. These telecommuters keep in touch with their supervisors through the use of telephones, beepers, fax machines, and computers and modems. As of 1993, 2,600 County employees were working out of their homes on an average of two to three days a week.
Employees who choose to participate in the Telecommuting Program must attend a half-day training session that prepares them for the new approach to work. The course is particularly important in building trust between managers and their employees. Telecommuting standards are provided to the employee and supervisor to give them a clear understanding of the conditions which apply while an employee telecommutes. A schedule of telecommuters is provided to all their co-workers with a telephone number of where the telecommuters can be reached. Telecommuters are free to work their own hours, as long as they are able to check their voicemail regularly during the day and return calls during normal work hours.
Although the County of Los Angeles is not the first employer to utilize telecommuting technology, the Telecommuter Program is particularly noteworthy both because of its absolute size and its degree of market penetration. The County's telecommuters have reported that they feel that they could actually accomplish more while telecommuting as a result of fewer interruptions and distractions. More than 95 percent of their supervisors thought that their telecommuters had either maintained their level of productivity or had actually increased their productivity. The County Assessor's Office determined that their telecommuters processed their work at a rate 64 percent faster than those in the office, increasing the Department's overall productivity by 34 percent. As a result of telecommuting, County employees are happier because of the elimination of a stressful commute, and 43 percent of the telecommuters felt that they were able to develop closer ties with their family.
The County of Los Angeles has served as a leader and a role model in the telecommuting field as indicated by over 200 inquiries about the program from other agencies across the nation and around the globe.