The 7th-most populous county in the United States is looking to flexibility to help solve its traffic problem. The highways and byways of Miami-Dade County have gotten so congested that county commissioners are considering opening “telecommuting centers” to let its county employees work closer to home.
The resolution, which was passed in a unanimous vote on September 7, "directs the county mayor's office to count the number of employees who could feasibly work remotely, identify potential sites, and examine how telecommuting centers would affect traffic," the Miami New Times reports. These centers would be most likely affect "back office workers"—e.g. HR employees, accountants, and other workers who don't usually interact with the public—and would likely be most beneficial for employees who live in the southern and western areas of the county.
"Rather than having everybody come downtown, have them go to centers where they can basically work through technology and still accomplish what they need to do and have traffic patterns begin to change, so you don't have everybody on the same roads at the same time trying to get to the same place," Commissioner Dennis Moss said in a meeting about the idea in July.
In addition to these new workspaces, the commissioners are also considering letting employees work from home. "I also believe that telecommuting by staying at home is a part of what we're going to have to do in the future in order to deal with this congestion problem," Moss said in July. "There's no silver bullet. Transit, telecommuting centers, telecommuting from home—all of those are part of the solution long-term."
These ideas—versions of the flexibility types we call Remote, i.e. location independence, and DeskPlus, i.e. location variety—aren't unprecedented in the public sector. For years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture encouraged its employees to telework, until an initiative this spring put strict restrictions on telecommuting. In March, The Washington Post reported the USDA's new restrictions could add nearly 42,000 commuter trips to the local infrastructure every week, or 2.1 million trips every year.
But if Miami-Dade County goes forward with location variety, and if these centers prove successful in reducing traffic in the area, organizations in both the public and private sectors might become more accepting of location variety.
Plus, organizations that do embrace location variety will find that this type of flexibility can also improve not just employee morale but productivity, too. As we note in our research paper, a recent study published in The Quarterly Journal of Economics showed that the ability to work outside the office has a significant impact on employee productivity. The researchers studied Ctrip, China's largest travel agency, and found that the employees who worked remotely had a "massive" performance improvement of 13 percent. The researchers attributed this productivity boost in part to remote workers working full shifts, since they weren't taking long lunches with co-workers or sitting in traffic.
One of the biggest arguments for using location variety to combat traffic, however, is the environmental angle. As we previously reported on WerkLife, remote work supports seven of the UN Sustainable Development Goals that 193 countries adopted in 2015. And if the 53 million Americans who can work from home did, the resulting decrease of carbon emissions would be equivalent to taking more than 27 million vehicles off the road.
In these ways, location-based flexibility is a win for employees, a win for employers, and a win for the environment.