Katrina L. Hauprich
Paint Branch High School
How many of us have experienced our Mom walk in the door after work and say, “I hate rush hour”? Or how many kids have heard this: “I’m sorry, Sweetie, but Daddy won’t be able to make your game this evening; I have to work late”? We kids have grown accustomed to hearing these complaints and laments from our parents as regularly as we hear our 6 a.m. alarm clock: “It’s so expensive to drive nowadays,” “I wouldn’t have to work late if there weren’t so many interruptions,” and simply, “I’m exhausted.”
To the thinking of many, a discussion about today’s struggling economy might only add to the constant stream of disgruntled comments. But does it have to be that way? What if there was a way to stimulate the economy while addressing the lack of quality time that families spend together? What if there was a way to jump-start the creation of jobs while reducing a family’s commuting expenses? What if there was a way for companies to actually get more productivity out of their employees without forcing them to work longer hours? And what if there was a way to do all this, even while doing less harm to our environment? I believe there is, I believe that we can do all this with a simple change in how we do business. Bear with me as I explain.
According to the Washington Post, the city of Washington D.C. currently ranks 2nd worst in traffic congestion, behind only the insanely-congested city of Los Angeles. In Jonathan Mummolo’s article, “A Ranking Writ In Brake Lights: D.C. 2nd in Traffic,” he reports that D.C. commuters have “sat through more than 127 million hours of delays at a cost of $1,094 per rush-hour traveler, and wasted nearly 91 million gallons of fuel.” The vast amount of money spent, and the amount of resources wasted because of this congestion, should be reason enough to make any economist and environmentalist want to work together to solve this issue. Although I am neither an economist nor an environmentalist, I believe that there is a solution which could be very successful in helping the companies of the Greater Washington Area responsibly and effectively deal with the current economic challenges facing the United States. The solution, in a nutshell, is just one simple strategy which has already been successfully mastered by many: telecommuting. Telecommuting, although complex sounding, is simply defined as working from home using a computer that is electronically linked to one’s place of employment. The only real necessities for telecommuting are a wired location to work from and a computer with internet access, which in our technologically advanced age is likely to be available on every square mile of the Greater Washington Area whether publicly or privately.
Some could argue that, “Yes, some people do work from home, but not everyone can. What if you need to attend a meeting with fellow employees? What if you need to answer the phone at work?” Fair statements, but if we’re really serious about making a change in how businesses “work,” we need to acknowledge the fact that not-so-recent technological “advances” such as video conferencing and call-forwarding have already addressed these challenges, and made any arguments on their behalf obsolete.
Others may argue that working at home creates too many distractions for the employees and, therefore, the employer isn’t getting the same level of productivity for their outlay of salary. Although I have no studies to refute this argument, neither do others have studies to support their fears. Using simple common sense, I’m more inclined to say that “a happy employee is a productive employee.” And so I ask myself, “What would make my Mom and Dad happy?” It’s simple, really. Working in casual clothes, eating food found in our own kitchen fridge, actually having the time and energy to see my ballgames and attend my school concerts, the list is endless… Is it possible that some workers might “take advantage” of their employer’s “kindness”? Some might, but using the same common sense approach to this discussion, I believe that productivity can be measured over time, and those employees whose production level drops off while telecommuting could be reassigned back to the office.
Telecommuting will help family household interaction, support the economy, and will help the environment. Working from home will mean less gas being wasted by people who no longer need to sit in stand-still traffic with their cars running, leading to fewer carbon emissions and, therefore, cleaner air Not having to drive to work every day means less time on the road (and more time working) and less money spent on transportation, thus meaning more money in the pockets of citizens to put into the economy.
Small businesses could especially benefit from this plan because in these times of economic downturn, eliminating the cost of an office space would make the upkeep of their business much more manageable. This in turn could benefit convention centers and hotels with meeting spaces, because when these businesses occasionally need to meet face-to-face, they could rent out rooms. It’s still a small expense compared to paying for an entire building. In a recent essay by Ed O’Keefe, “Agency Chief Makes the Case for Teleworking,” he expressed his idea that the biggest barrier for telecommuting was based on people’s attitude in the business place. “It has to be part of the ethos of the office,” he wrote. According to Steven Niznik’s article, “Companies Offering Work at Home,” roughly 51% of major U.S. companies do allow telecommuting these days, and it's a growing trend. In most cases, telecommuting is a benefit that companies allow to their most loyal employees who they know will still work hard even when they’re outside of the office. At this point, the U.S. Departments of Commerce, Transportation, and Environmental Protection are all very strong supporters of telecommuting because it helps meet some of the goals and objectives of these governmental agencies.
When it comes to privately owned companies, business owners are even more skeptical about allowing their employees to telecommute. In 2002, AT&T funded the Annual Telework America Research Survey to produce detailed information about the evolution of telework (telecommuting) in the U.S. “Everyone wins with telework -- businesses are more efficient, employees are happier workers, and communities have cleaner air,” said Joseph Roitz, AT&T Director of Telework and Workplace Transformation. “For those who may have been left out of the economic mainstream in the past, such as seniors and individuals with disabilities, telework holds the opportunity to ‘Get There Without Going Anywhere.’”
If this idea were to be enacted, it would lead to a boom in the economy in the area of technology, providing more money for jobs and research. This is absolutely necessary when considering, for example, the recent filing for bankruptcy by Circuit City, which led to over 30,000 employees losing their jobs. If more people were in need of technology and computers to work at home, the sale of tech equipment and services could only help to stimulate the economy, providing more job opportunities for the unemployed.
One final idea to consider is that with less commuting, there will not be as much wear and tear experienced by the heavily traveled roads in the Greater Washington Area. This means less road repair, leaving already scarce public transportation funds to improve the quality of all the roads, not just those which are always in the spotlight because they’re so congested with rush hour traffic.
Now stop thinking about everything I have said thus far - all the statistics and overwhelming data - stop everything and just imagine. Imagine a world where big business people have time to sit down with their families at the dinner table, or attend a child’s soccer game. Imagine a time when some of the most intelligent and influential people of our time actually have the opportunity to attend a field trip or visit their child’s school. Imagine the Greater Washington Area without road delays and congestion. It sounds great doesn’t it? We can have this; we can do it all if we just take the time to make the effort, to open the door, and to literally invite change into our homes. In the Greater Washington Area, times are changing…technology is changing…the economy is changing…why not the business office?
- Jonathan Mummolo’s article, “A Ranking Writ In Brake Lights: D.C. 2nd in Traffic,” – Washington Post - http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2007/09/18/AR2007091800777_2.html
- AT&T Telework Survey Documentation - http://www.ewire.com/display.cfm/Wire_ID/1494
- Telecommuting Survey - http://www.webpronews.com/topnews/2004/03/23/survey-says-telecommuting-ranks-high-on-job-seekers-list
- Steven Niznik’s article, “Companies Offering Work at Home,” -http://jobsearchtech.about.com/library/weekly/aa081400.htm
- Ed O’Keefe’s article, “Agency Chief Makes the Case for Teleworking,” – Washington Post - 9/25/09