Katy freeway (I-10) in Houston, Tx

Discussion of Telework Continues

Last week, I discussed the April 11th Kojo Nnambi Show from WAMU, where he explored telework and further delved into some of the issues pertinent to telework. How important is telework, not only to the federal workforce, but to local and state agencies as well as the private sector?

According to a study conducted by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), 68 percent of the employees who telework have indicated they would stay with their job versus 62 percent of those who do not telework. Employees in the federal work-force are getting older, so having someone who wants to stick with their job in the long-term is a benefit in itself.

The first question employers will ask is, “does telework make a work force more productive?” Research from the Global Workplace Analytics indicate the following

  • Over two-thirds of employers report of increased productivity among their telecommuters.
  • Best Buy, British Telecom, Dow Chemical, and many others show that teleworkers are 35-40 percent more productive.
  • Businesses lose $600 billion a year in workplace distractions.
  • AT&T workers work five more hours at home than their office workers.
  • JD Edwards teleworkers are 20-25 percent more productive than their office counterparts.
  • American Express workers produced 43 percent more than their office-based counterparts.
  • Compaq increased productivity 15-45 percent.

I am especially interested in whether telework will reduce employee attrition and how traffic congestion plays a role in an employees’ considering another job. Research showed the following results:

  • Losing a valued employee can cost an employer $10,000 to $30,000.
  • 46 percent of companies that allow telework say it has reduced attrition.
  • 14 percent of Americans have changed jobs to shorten the commute.
  • Almost half of employees feel their commute is getting worse; 70 percent of them feel their employers should take the lead in helping them solve the problem.
  • 92 percent of employees are concerned with the high cost of fuel and 80 percent of them specifically cite the cost of commuting to work.
  • 73 percent feel their employers should take the lead in helping them reduce their commuting costs.
  • Two-thirds of employees would take another job to ease the commute.

Other benefits sited through the Analytic research included:

  • Improves employee satisfaction – Two-thirds of people want to work from home.
  • Reduces unscheduled absences – Organizations that implemented a telework program, realized a 63 percent reduction in unscheduled absences.
  • Saves employers money – Nearly six out of ten employers identify cost savings as a significant benefit to telecommuting.
  • Increases collaboration – Once the technologies are in place
  • Equalizes personalities and reduces potential for discrimination
  • Cuts down on wasted meetings – Web-based meetings are better-planned and more apt to stay on message.

The one thing from Kojo’s Show that really hit me was the revelation that if you have bad telework experiences, it is generally an example of bad management. It is a sign of not really thinking out the complexities of the modern work force and how to fairly treat all employees, whether they telecommute or not. If there are problems with telecommuting, there are probably problems with the overall workplace.

Working-from-homeWe know that some jobs just are not appropriate for telework. More collaborative and problem solving can best be achieved with all employees at one location for proper discussion and dialogue. But that is why we have conference calling and webinar capabilities that allow people to share computer screens.  Again, a clear telework policy is necessary. It’s not easy, but nothing worth achieving, is ever easy.

It is important to encourage telework where appropriate, for that matter all Transportation Demand Management (TDM) options, to reduce solo driving. TDM options include carpooling, vanpooling, Guaranteed Ride Home, employer shuttles, flex workdays/ workweeks, etc. Financial incentives are very important to encourage potential employers to incorporate TDM (including telework) into their regular business operations. There are many such program that are available, and it is always easier to use a carrot rather than a stick to initiate a positive action. More information on telework and financial incentives, in this region and across the country, is available below.

  1. !VA
  2. Telework.gov
  3. Telework: Maryland and Virginia
  4. Tax Benefits Gives Added Incentives to Telecommuting
  5. San Diego Association of Governments
  6. Commuter Connections Flextime Rewards
  7. Georgia – Commutesmart

Please provide your thoughts in the comment section whether telework has been successful, or not, in your company or agency. Yes, we want to hear from you!

James Davenport is a TDM Employer Outreach Specialist, on contract with the Virginia Department of Transportation. Before that, James worked for Prince William County/Department of Transportation as a Regional Planner. In that capacity, he represented the county in regional forums and worked with planners and staff from other localities and transit agencies to help the region plan for its transportation future. For many years, James worked with the National Association of County as a project manager providing education and outreach to county officials, staff and key stakeholder groups on planning issues such as transportation, water quality, collaborative land use and economic development.

Katy freeway (I-10) in Houston, Tx

Are the Feds Pulling Back from Telework?

On April 11th, Kojo Nnambi had a show in which he explored Telework and the federal workforce. Mr. Nnambi introduced Max Stier who is President and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service and Nicole Ogrysko who is a Reporter for Federal News Radio. They discussed, among other things, how prevalent telework is in the federal workforce, the benefits of telework, the potential for abuses, and the relationship between telework and worker productivity.

Approximately one-fifth of the federal workforce telework, at least part of the week. According to Mr. Stier, technology makes it possible for most federal employees and they like it because it allows flexibility and it helps employees avoid the terrible DC rush hour traffic on some days. Telework can also be a great way to attract quality employees. It is a challenge for the feds to attract and retain candidates when in competition with the private sector that may offer positions with higher salaries and more benefits.

Credit:  WTOP

Credit: WTOP

So why did the Secretary of Agriculture move to reduce the number of days an employee will be able to telework? Ms. Ogrysko stated it is an unexpected action, especially since Office of Personnel Management (OPM) put out a recent report that stated employees are happier and more productive if they telework. Apparently, the Secretary was walking through one of the USDA buildings and he was exclaiming, “where is everyone?”.

As with any policy, there have been problems with telework in the past. Both of the panelists referenced some issues with Patent and Trademark office, though they didn’t specifically identify the abuses. They remarked that with the federal government, there is a lowest common denominator in which the federal government will avoid problems instead of improving on its success. Additionally, relative to federal work-force policy, the U.S. Congress has a history of focusing exclusively on the bad actors and making an example of them for political reasons.

Some of the comments from the callers expressed both support and opposition to telework. Some felt it would be an excuse to do anything but work, take time during the work day to run errands, go to doctors’ appointments, go grocery shopping, etc. But there is technology for the employer to know if someone is online and working. One critic noted the vulnerability of cyber hacking with telework, but Mr. Stier noted that in theory, the feds should have appropriate tools in place to secure the work environment, whether working physically at the office or remotely.

One caller stated she actually contributes more hours when she teleworks than when she is physically at the office. I have teleworked myself, and I find it easy to work more hours in a day, especially in the afternoon, when you are working to get something finished before the day ends and you don’t have an upcoming commute home. Another caller noted benefits for employees with a disability or health issue, since they are not having to deal with the commuting challenges every day during the week.

The consensus among both panelists is that any abuses in teleworking may be a sign of bad management. The feds need a clear telework policy, but this is true for the private sector as well. It is not prudent to allow the problems with telework to overcome the clear value of telework to the federal agency or private company.

It is not clear if this initiative to reduce the use of telework is being done holistically or piece by piece by individual agencies. In either case, the federal agencies should be learning from each other to consider the advantages and disadvantages, so they can determine if telework would be appropriate for their work activities.

 

James Davenport is a TDM Employer Outreach Specialist, on contract with the Virginia Department of Transportation. Before that, James worked for Prince William County/Department of Transportation as a Regional Planner. In that capacity, he represented the county in regional forums and worked with planners and staff from other localities and transit agencies to help the region plan for its transportation future. For many years, James worked with the National Association of County as a project manager providing education and outreach to county officials, staff and key stakeholder groups on planning issues such as transportation, water quality, collaborative land use and economic development.

5aaae020ee5c7_FIU_bridge

Rebuild or Rethink?

Earlier this month a $14.2 million pedestrian bridge collapsed in Miami, Florida killing six and injuring ten people. Immediately, new articles sprang up trying to figure out the cause, such as here, here, and countless others. I’ll leave it to the structural engineers and the courts to sort out the cause of the bridge collapse.

When I first saw the photos and video, I thought the pedestrian bridge was over a highway. As more photos became available, I realized this was a bridge over SW 8 Street, or Calle Ocho, with traffic lights and crosswalks. The purpose of the bridge was to connect Florida International University (FIU) students to campus housing and the adjacent community. The real problem with this street is that functions as a highway that prioritizes motor vehicles over people. If we can change our mindset to prioritize people, can reduce the roadway footprint and reduce our infrastructure needs.

From what I can tell on Google street view, the street is about 10 lanes wide (8 travel lanes, 1 hashed area the width of a lane, and 2 bike lanes that equal 1 travel lane) plus a median. Based on data from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), the Average Annual Daily Traffic on the street was 66,500 vehicles, which is about the same volume as New York Avenue NE in DC between Montana Avenue and Bladensburg Road which has 6 lanes plus a median.*

I made an approximate cross-section of the existing conditions at the location of the pedestrian bridge, based on Google Earth images. This perspective is looking westbound.

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After the investigations are finished, there is the question to rebuild the bridge. Rather than rebuild, FIU and FDOT should consider other options that would make it a complete and safe street. I played around with cross-sections including some that do not require putting SW 8 Street on a road diet. All the cross-sections are looking westbound. Some options they could consider, not necessarily mutually exclusive.

  • Widen the median: It appears that the westbound lane had a double left turn at one point. Rather than narrow the roadway it looks like the lane was removed by hashing. Given the space available, they could reorganize the roadway, so the median is equal to the current median and the hashed travel lane or about 16 feet. It would create a pedestrian refuge. Below is a cross-section that I mocked up that maintains the existing number of travel lanes. 

unnamed-st-remix (10)

  • Install protected bike lanes: From the Google aerial, it appears there are bike lanes on both sides of the street. The speed limit is 40 miles per hour, which means people are probably driving closer to 50-60 mph. For even the most fearless of cyclists, that is terrifying. They could consider installing a two-way cycle track on the south side of the street or raised cycle tracks on both sides of the street. Below is an example of a two-way cycle track

unnamed-st-remix (6)

  • Increase public transit: The Sweetwater Trolley operates every half hour. The Miami- Dade Transit has three bus routes that serve the university even at their peaks they are about every 30 minutes. While the system is free, 30-minute headways are not ideal for encouraging ridership. FIU could work with Sweetwater and Miami-Date Transit to develop a robust public transit system that benefits the university and residents. For the illustrative, I repurposed two travel lanes for bus only lanes and added in a bus shelter.

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  • Create people friendly public space: The sidewalks are right at the curb, which means people are walking right next to the roadway. In addition, there is very little shade along the sidewalk. Even with the location of the utility poles on the south side of the street, it is possible to create a grass median between the curb and a wider sidewalk as well as adding trees to add more shade. On the north side, it is possible to add a sidewalk and shade trees to make the linear park something more special that how it is today. If the roadway is narrower by a lane, that space could be added to the linear park. For the illustrative, I kept the cycle-track, narrowed the inside lanes to 10 feet and reduce the capacity from 7 travel lanes to 5. I left the outside lanes 11 feet to accommodate public transit.
unnamed-st-remix (8)

These are some ideas based on doing a digital tour on the site. After the investigations conclude, hopefully, there will be consideration of turning SW 8 St into a boulevard that is a gateway to FIU and Sweetwater.

*Note: FDOT’s data is 2016 and District Department of Transportation’s data is 2015. The point of comparison is volume and number of lanes.

Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.




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