I wrote an op-ed for this weekend’s Seattle Times about Seattle’s worsening traffic, and one very simple idea for cutting the number of cars on the road each day:
Let’s work from home.
Telecommuting is an inexpensive way to get single-occupancy vehicles off the freeways, but it’s going to take city, county, and state leadership to convince companies and CEOs to commit to it. (I would suggest federal, too, but well, you know.)
The idea is this: Just like odd/even days for watering your lawn, Seattle should organize local companies to each choose 1-2 days per week in which their employees are encouraged to work from home. Offer real financial incentives to the companies who help get cars off the road.
I addressed this to new Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, but county and state leadership (including Gov. Jay Inslee, who already supports telecommuting for state employees) could just as easily help make this a reality across all of Washington State.
I’ve already seen a few skeptical comments about the idea, so let me address those directly:
We need working public transportation instead.
Yes, but why not “all of the above”? Traffic is only going to get worse in Seattle, so we need to work on many solutions, not just one. Remote work requires no new infrastructure and is an inexpensive experiment. This is not a replacement for improved and expanded bus and light rail service — remote work only applies to certain types of businesses and industries.
Remote work doesn’t work — here’s an example of that awful time I had to dial in to an in-person meeting.
Remote work can be challenging if a company does not support it at the highest levels. This is why I’m calling for government leadership to step in with an organized effort to convince companies to do it en masse, and office-wide.
This way you can schedule your in-person meetings around certain days of the week, and optimize your work-from-home time. It needs to be supported at the executive level, otherwise it’s a political risk for a employee to work from home.
Eventually you’ll find that technology supports the work, rather than hampering it. At a distributed company, our videoconference calls are all remote, so there is no political advantage of certain people being in the room together, while others miss out.
Amazon is spending a ton on new office buildings — why would they, or Mayor Durkan, want to encourage people to stay home with all that money being spent on real estate?
Working from home 1-2 days a week is not the same as not needing an office at all. There is real value to being around your colleagues, in-person, in an office. At Automattic, we’re a fully distributed company, but we travel to work meetups all around the world specifically so we can get together in-person to work on projects and big ideas.
Local telecommuting could offer the freedom and flexibility to work from home, along with specific days in which you are connecting IRL with your colleagues.
Amazon, which occupies 19 percent of all office space in Seattle, is the elephant in the room. If Amazon embraced telecommuting at the highest levels, they could have a massive impact on easing traffic. (The company does offer telecommute, flex time, and compressed work week options to their employees, but I’d be curious about whether people are actually encouraged to do it regularly.)
In the end, this is all about money and limiting risk for companies, so city leaders would need to think of some real incentives in order to get them to take the leap together.