Recently, the Metro rail system in Washington D.C.—the backbone for people to commute and travel—had an unplanned 29 hour shutdown. With over 700,000 daily weekday boardings, suggestions by employers included using Uber and Lyft, which would only contribute to the already gridlocked rush hour commutes that DC area commuters face. Needless to say, it put DC workers in a tight spot.
This is not a short term problem or limited to DC. In DC, they are looking at shutting down certain lines for six months, but this is also true for other major cities Chicago, New York, and San Francisco, to name a few.
The time is right to leverage technology investments we have been making for years that will help us to preserve our transit systems, make our employees more productive, and become better climate citizens.
The Peak Demand Effect
A significant portion of the problems we face are because of artificial peak demand issues that we create; they are historical artifacts of bygone times.
Take, for example, tax season in the US: why is it that everyone needs to file their personal income taxes by April 15th? This deadline creates enormous strain on the IRS, tax service providers, employers, and citizens. It means larger computer systems to handle the peak demand, needs for temporary employees and many people operate in high stress environment. What happens if we could spread the filing system evenly over the year? How much money could we save?
And peak demand is very expensive to service. For any Uber or Lyft user, just look at surge pricing which easily can be 2.5x normal pricing and can even spike to 4X. Energy companies put programs in place to incentivize consumers to use less energy to avoid building another plant to handle peak demand.
Reducing Demand on Mass Transit
Recently, BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) addressed these surplus issues via Twitter, candidly bemoaning a system that was not designed to handle the dramatic increase in the Bay Area’s population as a result of the tech boom in the last 10 years.
But this is a problem with a relatively simple solution. For years various US companies have been investing in new infrastructure in the way of high speed internet bandwidth, mobile devices, and collaboration software like Slack and Sococo. This investment can be used—and should be used—to address the acute needs for reducing the demand on our strained mass transit infrastructure.
The Answer: Remote Working Solutions
Many workers can work remotely and continue to successfully meet their job goals. This does not need to be a wholesale work from home solution (but it could be!). If employees worked at home one day per week, we would reduce the demands on our transit systems by as much as 20%, assuming the workforce was distributed evenly among days of the traditional work week.
C-Suite executives must grab this opportunity and be active participants in using telecommuting tools. Online team collaboration is not just an IT or Human Resources issue. Just like we have a physical workplace, there needs to be a strategy in place for a digital workspace as well.
It’s time to recreate the advantages of a physical workplace that reflects the advantages of co-locating in an online setting instead—not just a place for a video conference call, but a place where teams can have co-location, seamless interactions, and all required information at hand, as well as the creation of the same emotional connection as if we were sitting together. With these elements, workers can maintain peak productivity in a crisis (or even an everyday situation) while reducing the strain on commuting systems during periods of peak demand.