In the ongoing pursuit of effective transportation, it’s often forgotten that mobility optimizes at zero -- which is to say, the absolute best we can do to make transportation effective is to make it unnecessary.
Remote work represents a rare, mutually beneficial mobility solution: with zero public infrastructure investment, zero speculation on unproven tech, and zero threat of path dependency, Pittsburgh can improve access to jobs, increase the talent pool, decrease congestion, and mitigate thousands of lost man-hours across the region today... all while preparing residents and businesses for what lies ahead in an increasingly digitized world.
The viability of this solution stands on its own regardless of the reportedly astronomical desirability of telecommuting, wherein 80-90% of surveyed professionals expressed interest in a remote work option and numerous local governments have already undertaken programs to attract residents who can bring remote jobs with them.
The decoupling of labor from the location where it is performed has to date been a squandered opportunity for many employers nationwide, due mainly to a) archaic labor stereotypes carried over from the industrial revolution, and b) the unintended exacerbation of such stereotypes as a natural result of isolated companies failing to share any progress made outside organization walls.
What we're proposing is the development of a framework among major employers, backed by the city, which acknowledges and advances telecommuting as a mobility solution with short-and-long-term benefits.
What are the benefits of a Remote Work Initiative (RWI)?
- Remote work employee preparation programs can teach the core qualities required to upskill displaced workers (communication skills, reading comprehension, critical thinking, information acquisition, organization skills, technical aptitude), which means RWI employee prep incidentally doubles as an evergreen career services program for the broader population.
- Unlike road-widening and new road construction, RWI actually delivers on the promise of lowering congestion and VMT by solving the cause (vehicles on the road and miles traveled) rather than the symptom (vehicles wanting space)... and does so at zero infrastructure cost to the public.
- The decrease in automobile traffic has the added effect of easing the political impact of other "anti-car" land use initiatives such as reducing parking minimums, bike lanes, ped-only streets, etc.
- RWI participants and their employers both gain back significant productivity hours previously lost on everyone to commute time: a fully remote employee who swaps a one-hour-each-way commute for telecommuting creates an additional 3 months' availability over the course of the year, i.e. a 25% increase in available productivity hours (2 commuting hours * 250 working days per year / 8 hour workdays / 22 working days per month).
- Where many alternative transit solutions stumble in attempts to deliver uptime during inclement weather (e.g. bikes and scooters in pretty much any scenario that presents precipitation and low visibility), remote work not only succeeds, but alleviates the demand from those other transit solutions, allowing them to flourish in a symbiotic relationship.
- Telecommuting can partially insulate an employee (or en masse, an entire company or region) from gas & oil crises.
- An increasing percentage of jobs can be unbundled from car ownership for the 24% of low-income Pittsburgh households that do not own a vehicle; residents who are struggling to afford a vehicle would also be emancipated from the regressive costs involved in car ownership (parking, insurance, fines, etc.) Further, unbundling jobs from transportation altogether improves the job market for disabled or low-mobility residents.
- An RWI promotes a virtuous cycle of economic growth in resident communities: i.e., a remote employee's schedule and presence at home is well-aligned to shopping locally during business hours, rather than using the few available evening hours to buy from online retailers or big box stores whose profitability can afford keeping the doors open later at night. As a result, the increase in local spending creates jobs, and the jobs help build a more robust community. This is before we consider the positive impact of activating underutilized and underfunded local spaces (e.g. libraries, museums, etc.) as co-working hubs for telecommuters.
- Telecommuting residents can gravitate towards mass/alternative transit solutions for non-commutes, potentially exiting the near-$10,000/year expense they incur to own and operate a motor vehicle.
- City-wide acknowledgement of telecommuting options smoothes the inevitable transition to mass job automation and the changes it will bring to communities and infrastructure; unlike the unmanaged demise of steel production which plagued Pittsburgh for a half-century, RWI engagement prepares policymakers and communities by exposing leading indicators.
- Environmental initiatives can be accelerated by the remote worker's decreased footprint (half the physical space and parking allowance, given that work and home are the same location.)
- An RWI would motivate employers to improve their employee engagement and operational effectiveness: having someone at a desk is too often a band-aid for sub-optimal training and motivation, and in fact, many of the fears around allowing telecommute "freedoms" (e.g. employees will be less engaged and less responsive) are manifestations of poor management. RWI engagement would compel participating Pittsburgh employers to advance the overall quality of their workforce through training on organizational management and a regimen for performance feedback.