Some experts are beginning to predict that gas prices could climb as high as $10 a gallon in the next two to three years. However, all of the solutions under consideration, such as developing alternative sources of energy, will take years to have a meaningful impact and hold no guarantees.
But there is one powerful solution that leaders could implement today. It would have a guaranteed positive impact, not only on the environment but also on the people and organizations using it—work+life flexibility. Isolated efforts have started such as the UK's Work from Home Day on May 15th, Houston's Flex in the City, and the state of Georgia letting employees work from home one day a week. But to have a meaningful impact, it needs to be broader. It needs to be national.
Therefore, if I were the President of the United States, I would propose that starting June 1, 2008:
• Everyone with a job that could be done from home would coordinate with their leader and team to determine one day of the week to telecommute.
Impact: Because people are still working full-time there would be no decrease in productivity, and fewer people commuting. The group undress4success just released an interesting review of research on the estimated energy savings from telecommuting and it is truly astounding.
• Everyone who sets up a home office would be able to write off the cost on their taxes.
Impact: Shifting costs from the individual and employer to the government would provide a strong incentive to get the proper equipment for telecommuting.
• For those who don’t have jobs that can be done remotely or who would prefer not to work from home (believe it or not there are many people for whom this is the case), set up three staggered shifts. This would reduce the number of people commuting at the same time. These shifts could run from 5:00 am to 1:00 pm, 10:00 am to 6:00 pm; and then 2:00 pm to 10:00 pm. As I have written before, there is no longer any reason we all need to commute at the same time (here).
Impact: Reduces energy consumed sitting in traffic; increases the efficient use of roads and public transportation by spreading it more evenly throughout the day; provides more global coverage across time zones for businesses, and allows people to work when they are at their best, e.g. morning people in the earliest shift, and night owls in the later shift.
But June 1st? How could organizations possibly implement this strategy in two weeks? They could if they had to as evidenced by what I observed on 9/11. At the time my husband worked for a large company whose headquarters were across the street from the World Trade Center. On 9/11, their building sustained so much damage that no one could return for over a year. I watched as within two or three days, everyone that my husband worked with began working full-time from home. It was amazing to see how people just stepped up to the plate and figured out how to get the job done.
So why don’t our leaders take advantage of workplace flexibility to begin solving our energy problems today rather than waiting until gas reaches $10 a gallon? I’m not sure, but I have a couple of thoughts:
1) It’s generational. I have blogged before about how our leaders in Washington, most of whom are over 45 years old, don’t even have the language to describe workplace flexibility, much less the understanding or mindset necessary to promote it as a solution. It’s just not on their radar screen. From their perspective, you have an energy crisis, you find more energy. That’s how we always responded. But this challenge requires new thinking.
2) Special interests. As noted in the posting I did about New York City’s double-taxation of telecommuters, there are powerful special interests who don’t want telecommuting to gain meaningful traction. They include commercial property owners and merchants in cities to which people commute.
So what do you think? Why doesn’t the government promote wide-scale workplace flexibility as a way of addressing the energy and environmental crisis we are facing? Do they not get it? Or has the pain not gotten severe enough that people are forced to think outside of the box? Maybe $10 for a gallon of gas will finally do it.