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Telecommuting, strike option for many, has limits

Corey Witt, of Great Neck, a computer and

Corey Witt, of Great Neck, a computer and systems analyst for Pace University, at his office in Manhattan on July 14, 2014. Witt plans to work from home in the event of a strike. Credit: Chris Ware

A shutdown of the LIRR due to a strike would spawn an army of telecommuters, some of whom would fear they couldn't fully perform their jobs remotely, say workers and business experts.

Kathryn Wylde, president and chief executive of Partnership for New York City, a group of CEOs from 200 leading businesses, said a poll of member companies found that working online was the dominant strategy to cope with transportation gridlock.

The 60 responding New York City companies said that most of the 10,400 Long Island commuters they employed would be allowed to telecommute, Wylde said.

"A few have work sites on the Island that they're directing people to," she said. "Some are using hotels [in the city], but most are telecommuting."

The World Wide Web was still in its infancy in 1994, when the LIRR last had a brief strike. Since then, Long Island has lagged in adopting telecommuting, with 2 percent of the non-self-employed workforce in 2012 versus 2.6 percent for the United States overall, according to an analysis by Global Workplace Analytics based in San Diego. Still, Kate Lister, president of the research firm, said Long Island's telecommuting ranks have grown 55.2 percent since 2005.

Janet Lenaghan, associate professor of management at Hofstra University's Zarb School of Business, said that academic research has found home workers can be as productive as office-based colleagues and a lengthy Long Island Rail Road strike "would probably force the issue."

Rob Buschor of Wading River, who sells radio advertising spots for New York Mets games, plans to telecommute for the first two days of an LIRR strike but fears that an extended absence from his Manhattan office would cramp his ability to close deals and "definitely hit my paycheck."

The 30-year-old account executive for Clear Channel Radio said that he would camp on a friend's couch in midtown Wednesday and Thursday nights should the strike extend beyond two days.

Corey Witt, a communications and systems analyst for Pace University in Manhattan, said that he had gotten clearance to work at his Great Neck home in the event of a strike.

Witt, 29, said he is connecting a second monitor for his MacBook to replicate his work setup. Still, Witt said he prefers to work on site.

"I feel like you miss something when you're not there," he said.

Digital branding agency Blue Polo Interactive at One Penn Plaza, above the LIRR's terminus at Penn Station, likely would have two-thirds of its employees at that location working remotely, said managing partner Michael Pomposello.

"We have four people who come in from Ronkonkoma and they're going to get stuck," he said. Pomposello added that workers could use online tools like Skype, and HipChat to communicate.


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