Ending Urban Gridlock: “Anywhere Working” Can Serve A Higher Civic Purpose
Most large North American urban areas, with populations in the millions, endure traffic gridlock problems along with over-stressed public transit systems. Simply getting around has become increasingly difficult – to the point where transportation (and related pollution) has become a central issue in many civic elections.
Meanwhile, the concept of “anywhere working” has come of age, given that more and more organizations subscribe to the notion that work is a thing that gets done, rather than a specific place or time of day. Enterprise communications and social collaboration vendors are coming forward with new solutions and services to enable what is often called the new way to work. Yet, there is also an opportunity to bring remote and flexible working to the forefront of public discourse and civic policy.
In the wake of our local municipal election in the Toronto area, media commentators were discussing the mandate of the newly re-elected mayor and council to eliminate traffic gridlock and “get the city moving again.” The problem is, the city has no immediate budget surplus to fund the billions required to build new infrastructure. Plus, pollution and smog are ongoing issues, and land is already scarce.
What approach will work? At what cost and impact on both the city and its people?
Proposals are being floated – $6 billion over five years for more surface trains, $8 billion over seven years for subways, and billions more for new expressways to handle auto traffic, and so on. I have the sense that, to some degree, these issues are nagging many urban areas not only in North America but around the world as well.
One potential solution exists that would not burden the city budget, raise taxes or increase debt, avoid consuming scarce land or green space, and can be implemented relatively quickly and easily. This is flexible or “anywhere working”, which allows people to work where and when they see fit to get their job done (subject to the needs of their employer and customers). Indeed, the latest major Gallup study of 195,000 workers indicates 43 percent of respondents work remotely or from home at least part of the time.
The new way to work can relieve urban gridlock and reduce pollution
The subject of flexible working from any location is gaining more and more attention. The topic of flexible working is a very different approach to transportation gridlock – “so as to resolve itself,” without building any new roads, subways, or trains. Perhaps municipal and city employees can take the lead by enabling more flexible working, to set an example for other employers who may be skeptical about remote working.
Just using basic math, if workers could work from home or remotely just one day a week (or one more day a week) within a five-day work week, we can free up roughly 20 percent of our urban transportation capacity just by way of reduced load on our roads and transit systems. And, if others can adopt more flexible hours (staggered start or end working times by working remotely part of the day), even greater relief may be enjoyed.
Flexible working also means “greener” and smarter business outcomes
Where I work, flexible working and virtual teaming are ingrained in our culture. It also drives us to develop and produce greener technologies to help businesses minimize their impact on the environment and achieve their overall environmental initiatives. These solutions also tend to make smart business sense in terms of cost reduction, operational agility, and employee satisfaction; not to mention, being able to hire the best person for a job, regardless of their geographical location.
When you think about it, “anywhere working” that leverages virtual team collaboration solutions tends to avoid unnecessary business travel and can drastically reduce employee commuting around urban areas. By enabling home-based, remote, or mobile workers, you can also avoid or reduce the build-out of new office facilities and consuming scarce green space.
It’s also important to consider the positive impact this has on employee satisfaction, engagement, and retention. Our own recent research studies show that flexible working ranked as the number one criterion among employees – valued even higher than a raise or promotion. In fact, 40 percent of Millennials say they would defect to another employer offering more flexible working terms. This is something to think about as we look for smarter solutions to urban problems.