Lots of us work remotely in bad weather. Why not more often?

Traffic was much lighter this week. AJC photo: John Spink

Atlanta’s most recent winter weather event led to widespread school closings, lots of flight delays or cancelations – and unusually empty highways.

Ahead of and during the frosty precipitation, Georgia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Natalie Dale repeatedly urged motorists to stay off the roads –  “My advice is to take my advice” and stay put, she said during a radio interview with WSB. Although area police and fire departments responded to hundreds of incidents it seems like many residents decided to heed Dale’s words.

“While there were numerous wrecks out there, especially the first half of Wednesday, people seemed to quickly realize the roads were bad,” WSB radio traffic reporter Doug Turnbull said. “Multiple jackknifed trucks blocked I-85 in Braselton and I-20 in Covington Wednesday morning. The traffic volume was extremely light Wednesday and Thursday, however, allowing crews to better treat the interstates and side roads. All that said, first responders would not have had their hands nearly as full if people had heeded the warnings Wednesday night.”

Georgia Commute Options’ Malika Reed Wilkins hopes the temporary traffic respite signaled an embrace of remote working options that employers can embrace even when the weather is fine.

“Inclement weather (events) are times you can test teleworking. It’s great for employers who don’t have a formal program in place to test out teleworking,” she said. “The more we can get people trying transit, carpooling, teleworking – the better for all of us.”

A 2015 report by the The Quarterly Journal of Economics studied what happened when a firm of 16,000 employees embraced remote options. Among the findings: a 13 percent performance increase, improved work satisfaction and an attrition rate cut in half.

More recently, Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace study, State of the American Workplace, which used data from more than 195,600 U.S. employees, “found that flexible scheduling and work-from-home opportunities play a major role in an employee’s decision to take or leave a job. Employees are pushing companies to break down the long-established structures and policies that traditionally have influenced their workdays.”

Deanna Peters, who lives in Smyrna and works in supply chain technology, accomplished more during the days she worked from home than she would have otherwise.

“I didn’t miss a beat,” said Peters, who worked from home Wednesday and Thursday due to the weather. “I participated in several conference calls and conducted web-based training with plants in other states. Both days were highly productive.”

Getting “back to business” lessened her efficiency.

“Returning to the office sucked the soul right out of me,” she said. “Between the lack of quiet and the folks ‘stopping by,’ I was here 30 minutes before I actually got started on my day.”

Sadly, working remotely for her is an option only when weather forces it.

“I think our bosses still put too much value on ‘butts in a chair’ as an indicator of productivity,” she said. “Seems that having us sitting in cubicles is some kind of security blanket for managers.”

Indeed, despite empirical and anecdotal evidence in support of remote options, there’s been high-profile resistance to the trend. Former Yahoo CEO’s Marissa Mayer’s decision to abruptly cancel telecommute options so infuriated employees that the memo announcing the remote-option ban, labeled “PROPRIETARY AND CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION – DO NOT FORWARD” was immediately leaked.

“It’s outrageous and a morale killer,” an anonymous Yahooer told Kara Swisher, then at All Things D, who broke the story. Swisher is now executive editor of Recode, host of the Recode Decode podcast and co-executive producer of the Code Conference. Mayer exited Yahoo after five years of “slowing growth and internal dissent, leading to plummeting employee morale and calls for her resignation,” Business Insider reported.

Executive coach, author and broadcaster Brandon Smith, whose TedX talk on workplace culture has been viewed thousands of times (it’s posted below) predicts a move toward more flexible working environments regardless of weather. Sub-trend: “hotel” workspaces where employees sit wherever there’s a spot, when they need to be in the office for meetings or project collaboration sessions.

“Introverts hate it,” Smith chuckled. “They like having their space, they don’t like people touching their stuff.”

Similarly, there’s still psychic currency among some workers in having primo real estate at the plant, such a corner office or a terrific view.

“Two or three days in the office, two or three days working remotely” feels like an informal formula that might suit lots of office environments, he said. Obviously, not all industries lend themselves to telecommuting (it would be hard for a chef to cook remotely) but for those that do, Smith advises setting clear expectations for employees who plan to work off-site.

He and Wilkins of Georgia Commute Options both raised a caution flag for remote workers: without the structural mechanics of driving to an office, it’s easy for working off-site to drift into working-all-the-time.

“Set up your environment, establish office hours, set some boundaries around that telework,” Wilkins said. Her agency works with 600 employers, 33 percent of whom have a formal telecommuting policy in place. She’s hopeful others, perhaps those forced by the recent weather to test-drive the option, will consider joining them.

“This is an opportunity,” she said, “one of those change moments.”

Did you work remotely, take transit, carpool or otherwise change your work routine this week due to the weather? We’d like to hear about your experience. Please email jbrett@ajc.com.

 

Reader Comments 0

2 comments
dhowardporter
dhowardporter

Even more to the point...in this day and age pretty much everyone has access to some sort of computer at home...desktop, laptop or tablet.  All schools should promote the idea of lesson plans being stored online so that students can access classwork, interact with teachers and other students and not miss school because of weather.

OH:IO
OH:IO

@dhowardporter


Except those in John Lewis's district. He's been in DC for how long and what has he done for them? Still has a bottomless pit of race cards. #termlimits.