The coronavirus has drastically changed the way many businesses operate. And in certain ways, it’s for the better.
When the world hit pause in March to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, we saw American employers, where able, implement remote work policies. Even as restrictions have loosened, the Brookings Institute reports nearly half of U.S. workers remain at home as the country continues its “massive experiment in telecommuting.”
Contrary to popular opinion, this shift to remote work isn’t new. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. experienced a 115% increase in the number of Americans who telecommuted from 2005-2015. COVID-19 has only accelerated this trend, with potential permanent ramifications to the American workplace. As Forbes recently noted, nearly one in five chief financial officers now plan to keep 20% of their workforces remote to help reduce overall corporate costs.
Telecommuting, when implemented, can require significant upfront capital investments.
Businesses must adopt new technologies, purchase additional equipment and, as needed, make cybersecurity preparations. These financial costs or infrastructure barriers may be insurmountable, particularly for companies with employees in remote areas or unreliable broadband access.
But there are compelling financial benefits to adopting these types of policies. Businesses can often save on overhead costs by consolidating their workspaces or reducing real estate and rent costs.
They can better recruit and retain employees, particularly those from Generation Z, who tend to prefer the flexibility of remote work over traditional office environments. And, as a Stanford University study showed, telecommuting can help significantly boost workers’ productivity.
Another potential bright spot of telecommuting, not only for businesses, but their communities: reduced carbon emissions. Take California as an example. Since the state issued its coronavirus-related stay-at-home order, vehicle traffic has gone down a reported 70%. As a result, air quality has significantly improved. Today, cities across the state are experiencing less ground-level ozone, which is known to cause negative long-term health effects, particularly among vulnerable populations.
Each summer, Metroplan holds Ozone Action Days, our annual public awareness campaign, to encourage Central Arkansas residents and companies alike to take voluntary emission-reduction actions like biking, walking, taking transit and telecommuting to keep our region in compliance with federal air-quality standards. With the coronavirus, our region’s business community now has the impetus — and the clear evidence — it needs to adopt these environmentally-conscious policies, including remote work, long-term.
Editor’s note: Tab Townsell is the executive director of Metroplan, an association of local governments that serves as a regional voice on issues affecting Central Arkansas, develops transportation plans required by federal law and convenes stakeholders to deal with common environmental issues for its members in Pulaski, Faulkner, Saline, Lonoke and Grant counties. The views expressed are those of the author.