Telecommuting, Residential Location, and Commute Distance Traveled: Evidence from State of California Employees
This study analyzes retrospective data on telecommuting engagement and residential and job location changes over a ten-year period, from 218 employees (62 current telecommuters, 35 former telecommuters, and 121 people who had never telecommuted) of six California state government agencies that had actively participated in the well-known pilot program of 1988-90. We compare estimates of the total commute person-miles traveled of telecommuters and non-telecommuters, on a quarterly basis.
Key findings include: (a) One-way commute distances are higher for telecommuters than for non-telecommuters, consistent with prior empirical evidence and with expectation. (b) Average telecommuting frequency declines over time. Several explanations are proposed, but cannot be properly tested with these data. (c) The first two findings notwithstanding, the average quarterly per-capita total commute distances are generally lower for telecommuters than for non-telecommuters, indicating that they telecommute often enough to more than compensate for their longer one-way commutes.
We cannot say from these results whether the ability to telecommute is itself prompting individuals to move farther away or whether telecommuting is simply more attractive to people who already live farther from work for other reasons. Even if the first case is true, however, and telecommuting is the “problem”, it also appears to be the solution, i.e. enabling people to achieve a desired but more distant residential location without negative environmental impacts.