We love to complain about traffic congestion, or I wouldn’t have written today’s story about the Texas Transportation Institute‘s latest study showing the Bay Area with more time and fuel wasted than anyplace in the U.S. except the seething autopolis down south.
One thing that often comes up in discussions about how to deal with the problem is telecommuting.
It’s like riding a bicycle to work. It would be really helpful if a significant number of people did it, but they don’t anywhere except where people can’t afford cars, trucks and SUVs.
Well, telecommuting isn’t exactly like that. It doesn’t make you sweat; quite the opposite. But precious few do it on a regular basis, so its impact on congestion and smog don’t live up to its glowing reputation.
I know why I don’t do it more often: I like to work in an office. I like to be around other human beings, united in the purpose of informing the public or whatever it is we’re expected to do.
I’m also called upon now and again to cast off the shackles of my desk, computer and land-line and venture into the Bay Area to talk to other human beings who are not in the news business. It’s difficult to do that when you live in an affordable home in the Central Valley.
So sometimes, when I need to be close to home to pick up prescription dog food or take my son to a driver’s test, I’ll work from home. But when I do, I always fret that the Bay Bridge will collapse and I’ll miss the excitement.
But what of the rest of you? Why isn’t everyone else enjoying zero-mileage commuting?
I just received an e-mail from a publicist who read my TTI study story calling my attention to another study that helps to explain why so few people telecommute.
The outfit that did the study, CDW, a “technology solutions” and whatever company that studied federal agencies compliance and non-compliance with telecommuting requirements in 2005 and 2006, decided to do private companies in 2007.
CDW’s national survey of 2,197 respondents – the only concurrent survey of employees and the IT professionals who serve them – found that even employers who can support telework are failing to inform and encourage their employees to use it.
They basically did what I would do if I’d had a research staff: Ask employees if they think they are allowed to telecommute. Face it, if nobody’s telling you that it’s OK, they probably don’t want you to do it.
Here’s what it found:
The report shows that telework adoption continues to grow across the Federal government and outpaces private-sector adoption by a three-to-one margin.
Forty-four percent of Federal employees indicate that they have the option to telework – up 6 percent from 2006 – while just 15 percent of private-sector employees have that option. During the past year, telework growth in the Federal government also outpaced the private sector: 35 percent of Federal teleworkers started teleworking, compared to 10 percent of private-sector teleworkers.
It’s probable that in some cases, bosses are just controlling jerks who just like to lord over their subordinates. Can’t do that nearly as well when the proles aren’t under foot.
But I think that its mostly a matter of both the employers and the employed craving that personal interaction that makes everything work more smoothly. If I’m in a remote location all the time, I can’t see the disappointed expression on my boss’ face when she looks over at my cubicle. I also can’t mitigate that situation as effectively without the ability to show off my furrowed brow as I make repeated phone calls to my contacts and furiously rattle my keyboard with the results of those conversations.
While the feds are trying to learn from us private-sector worker and queen bees, we and also learn a thing or two from them about making this happen.’
As the CDW report says,
The average commuter in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area spends 69 hours sitting in traffic each year, consuming 54 gallons of fuel and spending $600 in travel delay and excess fuel consumption, according to the Texas Transportation Institute’s most recent statistics, cited by the U.S. Department of Transportation. These costs would be avoided if commuters were able to travel at posted speeds.
Further, broad telework adoption could ensure the continuity of government operations in the aftermath of a major disaster or even for the duration of a minor disruptive event, such as a snowstorm.
Or earthquake, let’s say. Companies that helped facilitate telecommuting were much better able to keep their operations up and running after the Loma Prieta earthquake, and that was long before wireless mobile Internet.
It also helps make employees happier, increases loyalty and other qualities employers like to see in a workforce.
So get with it, employers. “Showing up” is overrated.