Working From Home

Last week's election-day ice storm in Maryland nearly paralyzed majortraffic arteries. Peaking around the evening commute, it causedshutdowns on routes 95, 895, 50 and 32. One friend's usual 45 minutedrive took just under five hours

My commute time didn't change. It takes about 15 seconds to walkfrom the office to the living room regardless of weather.

A friend who works from home complains that he never gets a snowday.

According to the CensusBureau commute times range from 16 minutes in Corpus Christi to 38minutes in New York City. 16 minutes isn't bad, but of the 69 citieslisted twenty score 25 minutes or more. That's more than half a workday of lost time every week, or some 12.5 days a year. A dozen wasteddays is more annual vacation time than most Americans get.

25 minutes on the road probably equates to at least 8,000 miles ayear. According to the U.S.government statistics, the average fuel efficiency is 23 MPG sothose 8k miles cost over $1000/year just in gas. The IRS allowsdeductions of 48.5 cents/mile for business travel, so one couldreasonably argue that the cost to drive 8k miles (once you factor indepreciation and other costs) is more like $4000. Per year.

Prior to the industrial revolution there were neither cars nortrains. People had to work pretty close to their homes. But factoriesconcentrated capital into buildings where workers had to go to earn aliving. Commuting started.

With the Internet and electronics revolutions many pundits predictedthe demise of centralized “factories,” especially for knowledge workerswho don't need to be physically close to big and expensive machinery.But it doesn't seem to have worked out that way. The vast majority ofthe engineers I know, if not self-employed, still battle traffic to andfrom the office every day.

Ironically, a lot of the at-home jobs created by thetelecommunications revolution are low-paid, low-skilled “opportunities”like telemarketing, customer support, and click fraud.

Collaborative work and the need for specialized and expensiveequipment means commuting won't go away for most engineers. But onecan't help but wonder how many of us can work from home at least a dayor two a week, saving gas, pollution, money and frustration.

What's your take?

Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embeddeddevelopment issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helpscompanies with their embedded challenges. Contact him at . His website is .

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