Telecommuting for the Planet

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Want to cut emissions at your work place? Stay home. Not going into work could be one of the most environmentally sustainable things you can do as an individual employee.

The two main contributors to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are transportation (29 percent) and electricity production (28 percent)—both of which can be reduced with a flexible work arrangement, or FWA.

About 135 million Americans commute to work. According to Global Workplace Analytics, half of them have jobs they could do remotely at least part time. If all those workers skipped the commute for half of their normal work days, it would have the greenhouse gas equivalency of removing 10 million cars from the road.

I oversee the flexible work arrangement program at UC Davis, where I’m the WorkLife manager for our Human Resources department. We’ve found such programs help increase worker productivity and retention and enhance work-life balance.

There are three main types of FWAs: 1) Flextime, where an employee can alter the start and/or end time of the workday. 2) Compressed workweek, where the workweek is condensed into fewer, longer days. 3) Telework, where the employee regularly works remotely for a specified portion of the workweek. This option decreases the number of commute days and can reduce office space requirements and costs.

To get started on the right foot, here are some ways to approach your boss and co-workers about working remotely:

For the employee

Research your organization’s protocol. This generally involves required forms and a written proposal. If your organization does not have protocol, you can look at UC Davis’ forms and policies for guidance.  Proposals for flexible work arrangements should focus on results, predictability, reciprocity and how the work will be accomplished without negatively impacting coworkers and customers.

Your written proposal should include:

  • The exact type and schedule of your proposed FWA
  • A description of how, when and where you will accomplish the various tasks of your job under the new arrangement
  • A specific plan to address any potential negative impact on colleagues and clients
  • Proposed methods and frequency of communication with co-workers
  • A plan for monitoring effectiveness (deliverables and evaluations).

In my experience, the most successful requests come when the employee is well-prepared. You should expect resistance, so have a very specific written plan paired with a researched oral argument. Be prepared for every question and objection. Encourage discussion and compromise, and propose ongoing evaluations with an established trial period.

Traffic congestion

Traffic on I-80 near Berkeley, California. (Wikipedia, CC SA-BY 3.0)

For the supervisor

Managers have a responsibility to achieve the goals of their units and to provide the guidance, support, training and organization for their staff to ensure success. Tips for establishing structure:

  • Set non-negotiable schedule principles
  • Establish core business hours when all staff are needed
  • Establish bandwidth: daily range of hours to allow for flexible scheduling
  • Establish core obligations required of the employee

Communicating with the entire unit is critical to establish the availability and parameters of FWAs. Discussing what may or may not be possible can head off unrealistic expectations, establish equitability, and lay the groundwork for successful flexible work arrangements.

A final note

Using telecommuting to cut carbon flies out the window if you’re cranking the A/C or heater while you’re at home, or if you tend to run errands with your car during work breaks. Avoiding those things will help your working-from-home agreement truly work for the environment, too.

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Sandy Batchelor is the interim WorkLife and Wellness manager for the Human Resources Department at UC Davis. She organizes and directs programs, policies and activities designed to help employees and students effectively integrate work, self and home.

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