40 unpaid hours per month. Minimum. That’s the amount of time I spent commuting 13 miles to a computer. I was part of Microsoft’s shadow workforce of subhuman contractors.
It was the experience of 21st century technology with an 18th century commute.
Commute times are one of the most significant sources of job-hate for workers. It was #1 for me. One study found that “Ditching Your Commute Is the Happiness Equivalent of a $40,000 Raise.”
There’s nothing quite like standing shoulder-to-shoulder-butt-to-butt on a crowded bus with your coworkers for 2–4 hours per day. At least on a bus or train you can stand, nap, read or tweet.
The car owners in the rush hour parking lots of Seattle’s I-520 and I-5 have to sit in their gas guzzling chariots with hands on wheel, ass on seat and eyes on road.
In solitude, they can ponder their out-of-pocket costs of fuel, tolls, parking, vehicle maintenance, and the untold cost of physical and mental stress.
All of this to commute to not just any computer, but to a laptop that I carried with me. A laptop that I could easily work on from home, a library, cafe, or any one of millions and millions of locations that provide internet connection.
Telecommuting is not about working from a beach. It’s about time.
What Can Be Done?
Seattle is ranked second worst in the US for evening rush hour congestion.
It’s also one of the fastest growing cities in terms of population and cost of living.
To stem the infrastructure issue seen as one of the core causes of congestion, the King County tax payers just approved a $50+billion plan for results promised to be completed from 8 to over 20 years from now. Included in the proposal is a light rail connection to Microsoft’s Redmond by 2024.
Regardless of your optimism concerning the government’s ability to complete projects on time and underbudget, this is expensive and too long to wait.
There’s a better way.
Our corporate citizens are largely responsible for requiring commutes, and the most capable of ending commutes.
With a change in the corporate policy of one or two companies, commute time can be reduced or eliminated for information workers.
Freedom of Location
Microsoft and Amazon are the two largest private employers in the Seattle technology sector, with approximately 43,000 and 30,000 employees respectively. And many other silicon valley giants are represented in the area.
Common practice for tech giants is to hire contractors to do the trench work. This shadow workforce’s size is unreported, and many of them make the commute.
One report estimated that Microsoft has 71,000 of these workers, but it’s unknown the exact number in the Seattle area.
Practice the Technology that You Preach
Microsoft and Amazon are two of the largest providers of cloud technology and are working to enable the mobile-first global workforce.
For example, Microsoft has Skype, Azure and Office 365 and is working on augmented reality technology that will create a virtual work world.
The office is moving to the cloud, and so must the commute.
For such smart companies, why is that they’re pushing the industrial-aged work days? Certainly, remote work is allowed at both companies, and Microsoft has a bus system for its full time employees. But what about the rest?
This doesn’t have to be so difficult. We could end the commute tomorrow if even just Microsoft and Amazon would fully practice the technologies they preach.
Here’s a few ideas on how to end or reduce the commute:
Encourage all employees to work remotely, full-time.
This one move would eliminate thousands of cars from the roads during peak commute hours.
There’s nothing more green than eliminating the necessity for driving.
Companies budget and pay for office space for its contractors. The contractors sit then sit in said expensive boxes for the off-chance that they might interact face-to-face with the full time employees they serve.
It’s a waste of time and money for the business owner, and the contractor. It also shows the incompetency of the manager’s butt-in-seat style to management.
If facetime with your employees is necessary, use FaceTime
Or Skype, Google Hangouts, WebEx, Facebook, or a virtual reality meeting in AltSpaceVR.
Many information companies are working to enable workforce mobility. Why not allow your workers that mobility?
We have the technology. Use it.
We don’t have to wait for Tesla to roll-out fully autonomous vehicles to save us from rush hour congestion .
The collaboration and communication technology of the internet is available today, stable and ubiquitous. We can virtually be anywhere in the world.
With a move from the dying industrial-aged-9–5-attendance-based compensation mentality, and a little trust that humans can show up online as they do at the office, our commute can be eliminated.
An eliminated commute means happier workers. Happier workers make a better product and create a better experience for customers.
Cars off the road means less traffic. Less use of fossil fuels.
At the end of the day, it’s a win for cost sensitive management, the over-extended information worker, the environment and the tax payer.
You show me a downside and I’ll show you a possibililty.