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Case studies in sustainable telework

Findings from the SUSTEL project

What are the economic, social and environmental impacts of telework? Changes in the way we work can offer a variety of benefits, and are often claimed to provide benefits across the "triple bottom line": business benefits, social advantages to individuals and wider society, and to the environment. But these benefits are rarely measured in a systematic way.

The European research project SUSTEL is aiming to change that. It has developed a consistent set of criteria by which to evaluate the implementation of teleworking in 30 workplaces in 5 European countries.

In December the first round of results were presented at a conference in London, including details of the first wave of case studies.

Aims of the project

SUSTEL defines its aims as to:

  • enhance understanding of the economic, environmental and social impacts of teleworking

  • assess the extent to which the impacts of teleworking change over time

  • identify ways in these can be influenced by organisations and governments

  • develop tools and guidance materials to enable organisations to evaluate and optimise the sustainability of teleworking initiatives.

Central to the approach is the development of the detailed case studies, a "sustainability assessment tool" and coming up with recommendations for policy to maximise the benefits.

In the sections below we provide some highlights from the case studies of teleworking at British Telecom and British Airport Authority.

Teleworking at BT

BT has been involved in teleworking since, it seems, time immemorial. They don't just promote it, they do it. Teleworking schemes have run under a variety of different names over the years, but it has bedded in and for many is part of the normal way of doing things.

The implementation here provides a very important case study. Firstly, it's the numbers of people doing it: around 6,300 out of 60,000 office based staff. Secondly, it's the detail that is provided in the measurement of teleworking activity and its effects.

Headline figures for the effects of teleworking include:

  • 78% of staff say they are more productive - generally estimated at 10-20% more productive

  • 90% were satisfied with teleworking

  • 22% said they had worked when otherwise they would have felt too ill to travel in for a whole days work

  • BT say they have made 100 million per year space savings: teleworking staff are expected to give up having a permanent desk, and use touch-down areas when at the office.

Travel reduction is also significant, with a reduction of car commuting of an average 178 miles per week per teleworker, 220 miles per week for rail commuters.

Another interesting feature of the case study concerns time budgets:

  • 69% said their working time had increased

  • 87% said that they had more time for their family

  • 6% said they had more time for community activities

These response indicate that although people say they are putting in more hours, being based at home and avoiding the commute also allows them to have a more fulfilling social life.

Teleworking at BAA

Teleworking at British Airports Authority, Heathrow, is being driven by the need to optimise space and reduce car commuting.  Teleworking is promoted through the Alternative Work Styles programme. 64 of the 250 staff at West Point, Heathrow, now telework. The level of teleworking varies from 1-2 days per week to 1 day per month. there are different levels of uptake between departments.

Travel savings have been calculated on the basis of just 2 teleworking days per month. With an average round trip of 64.3km, that leads to a saving of 128km per month.  This is comparable with the results being achieved from BAA's very successful car-sharing programme. It is pointed out that teleworking is only in its infancy here, and has not been promoted in the same way as the other options in the Company Travel Plan.

Teleworking is also contributing to space saving.  Based on a survey of the under-occupancy of desks, West Point has been able to consolidate space and lease out one building leading to a 400k per annum saving. Teleworking is only one factor here, but a conservative estimate is that it is responsible for 36k per annum of this saving.

What's next

Full details of these case studies can be found on the SUSTEL website.  Also there are another 8 case studies from the UK and Denmark.

Still to come in the project are further monitoring of the case study sites, as well as the case studies from the other 3 countries. We look forward also to seeing the tools and business guidance that are to be developed this year. If, of course, you can't wait for these, take a look around Flexibility - you'll find plenty of guidance and some useful tools!


Further info

Sustel logo

The SUSTEL project is funded by the European Commission's IST initiative. It is led by the UK Centre for Environment and Economic Development (UKCEED) and has partners from Denmark, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands.

Further details of the project, plus the case studies so far published, can be found on the SUSTEL website at: 



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