The COVID-19 pandemic serves as an opportunity for employers to test their off-site work policies and evaluate their impact on productivity and work performance. For governments and planning authorities, it offers a window to observe the impact on travel demand and potential return on investment of government-led interventions and messaging to encourage working from home. “Telework”, “telecommuting”, “distributed work” or “remote work” refers to working from a location other than the central office at least part of the time (Source: teleworktoolkit.com). Telework helps address several common goals and priorities simultaneously including accessibility, emissions reduction, and cost savings for employers, employees and goverment.
The lack of mobility options is a barrier preventing access to employment for those in remote areas and people with disabilities. A home working arrangement enables workers to provide their own work accommodations in a familiar place with close access to caregivers and personal service workers, provided that they have access to the required equipment and technologies. Further, it allows those who are ill or immunocompromised to work in self-isolation.
Any additional home energy consumption associated with home offices can be offset by the reduced volume of passenger vehicles idling in gridlock traffic.
Cost Savings for Employers, Employees and Governments
Employers can reduce employee turnover and absenteeism as well as office space needs while employees reduce their own spending on transportation, which costs Canadian households a total of $202.3 billion annually – second only to shelter in terms of major spending categories. Lister, et al. estimate that the annual return on investment of a federal telework progrm, if implemented effectively, would be $14 billion annually.
Governments often play a leading role in supporting telework by offering employers with toolkits and templates of corporate policies, agreement terms, employee/manager agreement applications, assessments/checklists, and various other resources. See this toolkit from the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Or see the State of Oregon’s Teleworking tookit.
Planning authorities can request residential property developers to include study rooms or “wifi rooms” in floorplans, such as the one in my building, shown below. These rooms can provide teleworkers a refuge from roommates, children, pets, and other distractions at home.
Additionally, government organizations have led by example by enabling their own employees to work off-site. See City of Ottawa or City of Calgary.
Translink, the transit authority in the Vancouver region, identified telework as an important component of their trip reduction strategy during the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Contrarily, our very own regional transit authority in the GTHA, Metrolinx, doesn’t even have the mandate to support employers on telework due to Bill 57 enacted 2018, which reduced their madate to strictly just transit.