--> Gill Blog: Telecommuting Eases New York City Transit Strike

Gill Blog

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Telecommuting Eases New York City Transit Strike

NYC has an Alternative Transportation Information Center online to help commuters cope with the disruption caused by a strike by transit workers. The workable alternative could be telework.

New Yorkers have come a long way since the last transit strike 25 years ago, according to a report by
Today, the strike by 33,000 transit workers that left nearly the 7 million people who use mass transit out in the cold, can't grind commerce to a halt in the "old-fashioned" way it did back in 1980.

At least, online it can't. Above ground is another story, as New York-based workers who had to be in the office hoofed it, pedaled bikes in sub-zero temperatures, or otherwise cajoled spots in commuter cars and available taxicabs in order to get to where they needed to be today.

The continued growth of broadband throughout the Untied States, plus the development of remote corporate networks, has made working from home as efficient as video conferencing with colleagues on a different coast.

And that access has become big business, as evidenced by the number of Web services providers jumping in to help local business today.

Torrance, Calif.-based LiveOffice, a provider of Web services, said today it is offering free Web conferencing and teleconferencing services to any New Yorker affected by the strike.

"We want everyone in New York to have access to conferencing technologies so that they can effectively conduct business from home without commuting," Ted Heieck, product manager for LiveOffice, said in a statement. "Our Web-based services are easy to use and perfectly suited to help New Yorkers stay productive during the transit strike."

Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, had something to say about telework in an article recently published on Tech Central Station about Some 21st Century Ideas on Energy and Employment:
One suggestion that does make sense to me is to encourage telecommuting and work at home. Managers and unions don't like this much: Managers because they like to have workers in plain sight (which also makes managers look more important), and unions because it's harder to organize workers who aren't all in one place. But while there's still plenty of work that can't be done at home, there's a lot more these days that can, and people who work at home use a lot less gas. On days when I don't have to go to campus, I sometimes stay home all day, and even when I go out to run errands, I tend to log a lot fewer miles than I do on days when I go to the office. There have been a few moves to make tax laws and workplace regulations more friendly to telecommuters and home-based businesses, but this is a subject that should get another look. The shift to cottage industry is already underway, for lots of other valid reasons, and its energy efficiency is just another attraction.

What's more, the federal government, which has lots of employees, and lots of jobs that can be done from home, should take a very aggressive role in promoting telecommuting internally. If this shrinks the demand for new federal buildings, so much the better. It also occurs to me that once "working" doesn't come to mean "being in the office for eight hours regardless of whether anything gets done," people might start looking for output-related metrics, which might allow us to shrink the number of federal employees -- something sure to make both managers and unions unhappy, but something also likely to be good news for taxpayers.

And that's where the telework initiatives of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) presented on their Interagency Telework Site are right on point:
Telework (also called telecommuting) is the ability to do your work at a location other than your "official duty station." With portable computers, high speed telecommunications links, and ever-present pocket communications devices, many employees today can work almost anywhere at least some of the time. Using the flexibility to work in a home office or telework center when it is effective to do so is clearly the wave of the future, and for many of us the future is already here.

If you're stranded at home or can't get much done at the office because coworkers can't make it in on account of the transit strike, this might a chance to read the OPM Telework Manual.

As long as workers are at home, this is probably as good a time as any for office managers to consider the benefits of telework as a matter of corporate policy, and to make plans for business continuity during the next workplace interruption.


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