Is allowing people to work at home in their pajamas good for business? Some Virginia officials think it may be and are now offering tax breaks to prove it.
Virginia companies will be eligible for up to $50,000 in tax credits for setting up telework systems for employees starting Jan. 1.
Supporters say the new law keeps employees happy, gets cars off the road and gives the environment a break.
"It's a lot more inexpensive way to deal with our transportation problem than it is to just keep building roads," said Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff McKay, D-Lee.
The law will offer $1,200 in tax credits per employee for eligible expenses, such as computers, high-speed Internet and modems.
"I have seen personally the benefits of telecommuting, and I think we should replicate that throughout Northern Virginia," said Del. Mark Keam, D-Vienna, one of the law's backers. "It's had a tremendous benefit to us personally, because the fact that my wife doesn't have to travel to Alexandria every day means she can be here when the kids get home from school."
About 600,000 people in the congested Washington region telecommute at least occasionally, but 500,000 more "could and would" telecommute if their companies supported it, according to a 2010 Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments survey.
"Telework is the best thing since sliced bread," AAA Mid-Atlantic's John Townsend said. "It's taking cars off the road."
Only a handful of states nationwide reward companies for allowing teleworking. The federal government lets its employees work from home but offers no tax breaks or incentives to private companies. And Virginia's rival across the Potomac, Maryland, has a small telework-support office but no tax incentives for companies.
"Virginia's been the ahead of the game since Tim Kaine was governor, because he really was behind telework," said Chuck Wilsker, president of the nonprofit Telework Coalition.
But even supporters warn that teleworking isn't for everyone. Retail, construction and even office jobs that require frequent face-to-face meetings aren't really suited for teleworking, they said.
"Telecommuting isn't for every company," Keam said. "There are plenty of jobs where you have to physically be there."