BOWIE – Most days, Bowie resident Linda Smythe commutes an hour or more to her U.S. Department of Agriculture job in Alexandria, Va.
But on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Smythe gets to work in as little as 10 minutes.
“It is a blessing,” Smythe said of the Bowie Community Network Telecommuting Center at Bowie State University. She is one of about 60 federal and private-sector workers who work at the center, cutting down on hair-raising traffic delays and reaping the benefits of being closer to home and family.
Federal and state officials, who toured the Bowie site Friday, said they want to see more people like Smythe taking advantage of the 15 alternative work sites in the Washington, D.C., region. Currently, there are only an estimated 423 workers using the centers — six in Maryland, eight in Virginia and one in the District.
“Telecommuting is a way for us to improve employees lives by reducing their total commute time, while benefiting the larger community by putting fewer cars on the road,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, in a statement on Friday.
The Washington area has some of the worst traffic congestion in the nation, according to the Texas Transportation Institute. It said commuters in the region waste more time in traffic delays — 82 hours a year — and more money — $1, 290 per driver — than any other large city.
Telecommuting centers cut down on commuter traffic by offering all the amenities of the office, but closer to home. The Bowie center, for example, has computer-equipped cubicles along with phones, faxes, copiers and a kitchenette.
The alternative work sites are becoming increasingly attractive to harried commuters. Hoyer’s office said there are 74, 487 federal workers across the country who telecommute. Bowie center director Joyce Twohig Larrick cited an International Telework Association & Council report that said there are now 28.8 million teleworkers in the United States, an increase of almost 17 percent from the year before.
“Work is not where you go. It is what you do,” Larrick said at a Friday event attended by Hoyer, Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Largo, Office of Personnel Management Director Kay Coles James and others.
“The concept of a single assigned place to work, for majority of office workers, (that concept) is now obsolete,” Larrick said. “With the right technology the work comes to the worker wherever he or she may be.”
The Bowie Telecommuting Center opened its doors on June 1, 1998. It is currently operating at 85 percent of capacity, said Larrick. But other centers in Maryland have not been successful: A telecommuting center in California, Md., was closed after it did not produce the desired results.
But James had a message for employers and businesses.
“Telecommuting is here and it is here to stay, and we are going to do it and you are going to love it,” she said.