In 2009, I expect telecommuting worldwide to take a hit. Yes, we saw an increase in employers allowing employees to telework in 2008—the figure jumped from 30% of organizations in 2007 to 42% in 2008, according to a WorldatWork study.

While a CompTIA Web survey indicated that telecommuting improves productivity and lowers costs, the fact remains that allowing employees to telecommute introduces risk to employers. Risks to the security of data is just the beginning; many managers and organizations simply don’t have experience with a telecommuting program, which makes a new telecommuting program a management and human-resources risk.

If there’s one trend you can count on in 2009, it’s this: Employers will seek to avoid risk with reckless abandon.

While many are continuing to push for the spread of telecommuting (and some see the upward trend to continuing through next year), it’s going to be a very tough sell to employers.

The number of managers experienced with telecommuting is especially low in areas, like Lancaster County and Central PA, that were historically heavy on manufacturing. When it comes to using communications technologies and adopting fresh business strategies, the rust belt is rusty.

Therefore, I see very little opportunity to change the way existing organizations handle telecommuting, particularly in our region. Where I do see the opportunity is in attracting people and companies that already embrace telecommuting to our region due to the combination of our low cost of living and our proximity to major metropolitan areas. Doing that attracting is the fifth opportunity for entrepreneurial fun and profit in 2009

No. 5: Telecommuting

Problems: Few Central PA employers will offer telecommuting as an option;  less “tele-commutable” work worldwide
Assets: Low cost of living in Lancaster/Central PA, combined with being within travel distance to major East-Coast metropolitan areas

There is no denying that telecommuting is more viable now than ever. It may stop expanding as a trend in 2009, but by some estimates as many as 59% of organizations offer some of their employees the option to do at least some work outside the office. One of the big reasons that employers embrace telecommuting is because it can drastically reduce costs (especially the overhead costs of having to “house” an employee in the office).

If this is what you see when you telecommute, doesn't it make sense to live somewhere with a low cost of living? Photo by Flickr user DDFic, under a Creative Commons license.

At the same time, there are still risks and disadvantages to employers. The most popular way of mitigating those risks and disadvantages is by having employees who telecommute spend at least a little time each week on site, either in the office or at a face-to-face meeting with a client.

Whether the case at hand is of an individual or of a company, the cost of living in Lancaster specifically and Central PA generally should be attractive. If you’re going to telecommute, it makes more sense to do so from a location where the cost of living is low rather than from, say, midtown Manhattan.

Lancaster is a more affordable place than Manhattan. It’s 49% cheaper to live here. It’s 34% cheaper than Boston, 49% cheaper than Washington DC, 19% cheaper than Newark, 7% cheaper than Baltimore, and 8% cheaper than Philadelphia. (You can do your own comparisons at

For an individual or company, relocating to this region would fall somewhere between having hour-long commutes and telecommuting from India. An individual telecommuting from India can’t be at the important meeting in Baltimore tomorrow afternoon. An individual with an hour-long commute is still in the suburbs of a city with a high cost of living (to say nothing of the 2 hours spent in transit each day).

Telecommuting required a new set of tools, procedures, and practices in order to become viable on a mass scale. Telelocating (telecommunitying?  proximity-telecommuting?) will require the same. Serious profits await the ones who develop those tools, procedures, and practices and bring them to scale.

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Read Part I – Construction
Read Part II – Journalism
Read Part III – Continuing Ed
Read Part IV – Lending

6 thoughts on “11 Problems You Can Solve in 2009: Part V – Telecommuting

  1. I think you (and I) need input from the folks at Mapquest. They started here but moved to NYC.

    Part of it is connectivity, and although it’s greatly improved since AOL bought them, we still have a problem with that. We don’t even have good cellphone coverage, especially in the southern part of the county, where living costs are lowest, and our broadband isn’t the greatest. I keep hearing that Verizon is going to bring FIOS here, and yet they haven’t. I’ve decided to stop holding my breath.

    I suspect another problem is that there’s not much of a high-tech community here. If you’re a geek, you want to associate with other geeks, so you’re more likely to accept a job in a community where there’s an engineering school.

    I’m not saying that’s the whole story. The computer was invented at Penn, and Philadelphia squandered that advantage, letting Silicon Valley develop in California. On the other hand, I can’t think of a single community that’s seen their residents become more competitive internationally by building a stadium or a convention center.

  2. Great post. I think that the coworking movement is going to see an explosion over the coming year for those exact reasons. more and more companies are looking to lessen their overhead, and what better way than to let your employees work from home.

    Lancaster is a prime location for telecommuters as well. It has a great culture, and more tech than one would expect. Mapquest is actually still headquartered in Granite run, plus there’s a quickly growing tech community. Good things to come i’m sure.

  3. Kyle, thank you for reading and responding to this post. You address some of Harl’s concerns with more authority and direct experience than I can offer. As you continue to find ways to make your working arrangement “work,” I know we’d all love to hear about how you do it.

  4. For the record: MQ has never been based out of NYC. The .com site was launched locally and the offices have always been located in the Lancaster area and Denver, CO.

    Pennsylvania as a whole is not competitive when it comes to attracting tech businesses and talent for a number of reasons. The state also suffers from an extremely high-rate of brain-drain, creating even less appeal. Turning attention to modernizing PAs attitude, laws, taxes, and culture is where there’s tremendous opportunity for growth in the local tech community. Other areas of the country have done an excellent job with this. The DC-area has launched a number of initiatives to become “Silicon Valley East” and they’ve created momentum.

    Central PA’s geography, the coworking/telecommuting movement, and people being priced out of nearby metro areas and the Bay Area add to local potential, but without infrastructure, community, and incentives, they’ll be other places that will continue to capitalize to PA’s detriment.

    In just the past year, I’ve seen a big jump in local organization, using tools like Facebook and Twitter to find and connect the disconnected tech fragments in our area. As that movement spreads and grows, it’s up to this fledgling tech community to turn some attention to addressing these other issues and creating an environment of opportunity to attract others.

  5. One way to deal with many of the issues facing home telecommuting is to utilize remote offices. Home telecommuting is not the only option for workers who want to skip the long daily commute. Remote Office Centers offer improved infrastructure and better structure. ROCs lease individual offices, internet and phone systems to workers from different companies in shared centers located around the city and suburbs.

    ROCs provide structure, infrastructure and social contact. All of these are important for most workers.

    ROCs are fairly new, but represent nothing more than a paradigm shift.

    There is a free web site that lists ROCs by location:

  6. Yes, there are number of studies that support telecommuting. Government is also encouraging this practice. This will be gaining momentum in the days to come. Cheers

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