SAN FRANCISCO - The first business day after a major highway collapsed could have been a snarl of traffic jams, detours and road blocks for Victor Cousins, a Sun Microsystems Inc. employee who usually car pools into San Francisco from Oakland.
Instead, Cousins bypassed the crumpled stretch of road and participated in conference calls from his home office.
"I avoided the chaos this morning," said Cousins, 30, a human resources business partner at Sun. "From what I'm hearing, it could be six months or more of problems. I absolutely know this will change my patterns, and I'll be working from home a lot more often."
The day after an elevated section of highway that funnels traffic from the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge to key freeways was destroyed, officials credited telecommuters like Cousins for roads that were only slightly more clogged then any other weekday.
"We are noticing that a lot of people have stayed home today," said San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency spokeswoman Janis Yuen. "There's a bit of learning curve, but people are pulling it together and finding ways to make things work."
Silicon Valley technology companies have some of the world's most liberal policies on working from home. Having co-workers log in from the suburbs is no big deal for firms such as Intel Corp. and Oracle Corp., which have aggressively outsourced programming and engineering jobs to low-cost tech hubs in China, Russia and India.
Sun Microsystems, where Cousins works, is one of the industry's biggest advocates of telecommuting. The Santa Clara-based hardware and software company expanded its telecommute policies after the 2001 terrorist attacks, when many companies crafted emergency response plans to reduce reliance on a single building.
Today, 56 percent of Sun's 34,494 employees work without an assigned office - either at home or at a satellite office far from the headquarters. When they have appointments at the "anchor office," they schedule a cubicle online on a first-come-first-served basis. Nearly 3,200 employees work from home at least four days per week.
According to internal research, the company's "Open Work" policies save the average Sun employee two hours a week in commute time. The program has allowed Sun to downsize its property in pricey Silicon Valley, slashing real estate costs by $67.8 million last year and $387 million since the project began.
According to a February report by WorldatWork, 28.7 million Americans worked outside the office at least once a month in 2006, up 10 percent from 2005. But only 12.4 million Americans work for companies that have specific policies allowing telecommuting, according to the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based association of certified compensation professionals.