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Few In Spokane Telecommuting Still, Number Working By Computer From Home Rises To State Average

Mon., Aug. 7, 1995

People who track the hot social trends in Spokane County will find telecommuting low on that list.

Blame the showing on short drives to work, moderate rush hours and good bus routes, say the people who watch where other people work.

Compared to the Puget Sound, fewer people in Spokane telecommute - shifting their work from office to home, usually with the help of a home computer - the state Energy Office says.

Still, Spokane telecommuting has gone from practically nonexistent to about average for the state in the last three years, said T.J. Johnson, the Energy Office commute trip reduction manager.

Recent state surveys asked workers how many times they stayed home to work, and how many times they took public transportation or joined a car pool.

Johnson said workers telecommute statewide and in Spokane County roughly two-tenths of 1 percent of the time - about two out of every 1,000 trips.

The state monitors telecommuting because clean air laws require larger employers to reduce commuter trips by their workers.

“Spokane County definitely made some gains, considering the number was fairly low three years ago when the first survey was made,” said Johnson.

Thurston and King counties have higher telecommuting rates, while Pierce, Snohomish and Clark have slightly lower rates than Spokane.

“It’s obvious the higher responses will be in the larger metro areas of the state,” said Dee Christensen, who works with Johnson at the state energy office.

The five Spokane County employers with the most workers telecommuting were Eastern Washington University, Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington Water Power Co., Sacred Heart Medical Center and Hewlett-Packard, the state survey found.

The Boeing Co.’s Airway Heights plant and offices of the state Department of Transportation were not included in the survey, said Katy Taylor, commute trip reduction manager for Spokane County.

The ranking is based on total number of telecommuters, not percentage of work force. The numbers can’t be released without the companies’ approval, Taylor said.

By and large, Spokane’s telecommuting crowd is made up of people looking to get more work done or need flexible schedules.

Hewlett-Packard engineer Karen Otto telecommutes one day a week to help manage parental and work duties.

“What’s great about this is I can time-slice my day into different sections,” said Otto, who writes technical documents.

“I can get up at 6 a.m. and work until my daughter wakes up, then give her breakfast. After she goes to the day care, I can come back and work,” she said.

Observers say telecommuting nationwide should increase by 2 percent a year until 2010. One estimate suggests 11 million Americans are telecommuting this year.

In Spokane County, the number of telecommuters will grow modestly, county officials predict.

Apart from the shorter travel time, tradition also works against telecommuting here.

Some jobs fit well with telecommuting. Sacred Heart, for instance, encourages its medical transcriptionists to work at home.

Those employees listen to tape-recorded summaries of patient information, transfer them to computer disks and send them back to the hospital.

Sacred Heart just formulated a new telecommuting policy.

“One thing that has to happen is for managers to change their mentality,” said Karl Bingle, a Sacred Heart computer programmer and chair of the committee drafting the policy.

“They have to look at overall productivity, whether the job is getting done better or worse or just the same.”

, DataTimes


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