IF COMPANIES could earn valuable credits for keeping their employees away from the office, how many everyday commuters might they turn into sometime telecommuters? And if the numbers proved high, how much air-polluting, nerve-racking congestion might disappear from today's jam-packed roadways? Rep. FranK Wolf of Virginia, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on transportation, would like to find out. He has introduced a proposal for financial incentives to businesses that let employees work from home on various days.

Mr. Wolf's pilot program for this region and four other metropolitan areas would give voluntarily participating firms pollution credits that they would be free to sell in deals with other businesses and nonprofit groups, federal and state governments and schools and universities. The approach is patterned after a national credit trading program that has helped curb pollution by coal-burning utility plants, among others. A number of companies in this area have expressed interest in the plan.

Executives are discovering that much of their work can be accomplished efficiently by telecommuting employees. AT&T, for example, says that last year about 55 percent of the company's 55,900 managers telecommuted at least once a month. The International Telework Association and Council says that 60 percent of workers in this region do work that can be performed by telecommuting.

Like flex time and four-longer-day weeks, the telecommute proposal may prove impractical for certain businesses. But a for-profit incentive does have a way of stimulating fresh thinking.

The Wolf proposal -- introduced as an attachment to the transportation funding bill -- won't begin to solve this region's transportation problem. Roads, bridges and mass transit improvements are essential. But more telecommuting could make a difference.