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Will coronavirus spur a traffic-solving remote-work revolution? Don’t count on it


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For a region used to organizing daily life around the rhythms of rush hour, last week was downright eerie.

There was no sea of brake lights at the Bay Bridge toll plaza each morning. No caravan of super-commuters inching west on Interstate 580 before dawn. No sardine-can cramming onto BART trains. No hellacious crawl down Highway 101 at 5 p.m.

As the Bay Area races to contain a deadly pandemic that has upended life as we know it, our region is also being thrust into a mass experiment in remote work. Albeit unintended, we’re seeing firsthand how having large numbers of people do their jobs at home instead of in offices could be a solution to the grinding traffic that captured our attention in the days before COVID-19.

Businesses that may have been hesitant to allow employees to work remotely now have no choice. Workers curious about ditching their commute and working full-time from home are doing just that. Whether those habits stick could have big implications for the traffic congestion that fuels climate change while sapping Bay Area residents’ time and money.

“Some people might enjoy this flexibility, and say, ‘Hey, I really like not driving three hours per day,’” said Harvard Business School professor Prithwiraj Choudhury, who studies remote work.

“There could be some managers who say, ‘We actually did pretty well,’” Choudhury added, “or stare at the empty offices and say, ‘Why do we need these offices?’”

Plenty of businesses are still figuring out more pressing day-to-day concerns in this “new temporary normal,” said Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce President Barbara Leslie, and haven’t yet turned their focus to what happens next.

“People are really exploring ways to conduct business as usual while being remote,” Leslie said.

But Silicon Valley Leadership Group CEO Carl Guardino predicted the temporary change could catch on with some companies and workers, spurring “permanent shifts that will lead to positive impacts on traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emission reductions.”

Telework has become increasingly popular as new technology allows companies to create a workplace anywhere, whether with instant messages on Slack or video conferences using Zoom or GoToMeeting.

Still, only about 5 percent of workers typically do their jobs remotely full-time. That number increases to nearly 25 percent when you include part-time telecommuters — those who work from home one day each week, for instance, or occasionally do so if their child is home sick from school.

Rather than an overnight change once the coronavirus crisis ends, Choudhury foresees a more gradual shift, in which workers gravitate toward companies that offer them the flexibility telework provides, and businesses reap the rewards of lower overhead and a wider pool of talent.

“In 10 years we will see a very different pattern in where people live, and where they work, and how they work,” Choudhury said.

Even a small increase in the number of people working from home could make a big difference on the Bay Area’s roads.

Experts say that’s …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Health

      

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