OLYMPIA, Wash. — With construction on Interstate 5 in the Seattle area next month (July), employers can expect increased tardiness and even absenteeism. But they can alleviate some of the problem by taking a cue from businesses and government agencies that responded to the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Southern California.
There, freeway damage caused massive commuting problems, with some employees facing four-hour commutes each way. Astrid Logan, transportation programs manager at California State University, Northridge, says CSUN implemented an emergency response program within two weeks of the earthquake. It provided for telework — working at home instead of coming to the office.
Dee Christensen, who leads Washington State University’s telework program, says telework, compressed work weeks and flextime worked so well for many Southern California businesses and institutions that they continued these new work strategies after the region’s freeways were repaired.
One reason many have continued the programs is because they found positive, long-term benefits not associated with the crisis. They include greater employee productivity, improved employee morale and job satisfaction, reduced absenteeism and sick leave, and increased ability to recruit and keep valued employees.
Seattle-area commuters won’t face problems that severe, but commutes will be lengthened when contractors work on the southbound lanes of three bridges between Ravenna Boulevard near the University District and south Seattle where traffic volume ranges from 107,000 to 110,000 vehicles a day.
Christensen says employers can reduce the impact on their business and on their employees by adopting one or more alternative work arrangements that will eliminate some commutes or allow them to occur outside rush hours.
Seattle’s rush hours under normal conditions already span three hours, from 6:30 a.m. — 9:30 a.m., and again from 3:30 p.m. — 6:30 p.m. I-5 bridge work will significantly extend them. Cathy Cole, program manager for the King County based Commuter Challenge program, says “Organizations which haven’t tried work options have a great opportunity during the construction period to give them a try.
“Compressed schedules, flextime and telework options will help employers by either eliminating some commute trips or allowing employees the flexibility they need to share the ride or commute at less congested times.
“We are available to help King County employers develop these programs.”
Barbara Reeves, Virtual Office program manager for The Boeing Company says, “Boeing utilizes compressed work weeks and other alternative schedules and is working on implementing even further flexibility in the scheduling that will be available to employees company-wide.
“We have also been piloting, and now implementing for the last couple of years, a full Virtual Office program, which allows employees to work from home or other locations in order to reduce the commute or eliminate it altogether.
“We already have thousands of employees utilizing alternative schedules and expect to have thousands telecommuting within the next year.”
“We have taken advantage of the excellent Telework training videos provided by WSU.”
Other successful telework programs in the Puget Sound region include Washington Dental Service, Holland America Line, the City of Redmond and GTE Northwest, Christensen says.
Telework uses a variety of schemes. Some employees work one to three days a week at home, but some work almost entirely at home.
Christensen says compressed work programs typically lengthen the work day, allowing employees to eliminate work days. Boston Scientific, Red Dot, Frank Russell Co., and TCI Cable have excellent compressed work programs.
Flex time doesn’t eliminate commuting trips, but allows employees to commute outside of rush-hour periods, thus alleviating congestion. Christensen says SeaFirst and the Seattle Housing Authority have good flex time policies.
Christensen notes that many larger organizations must meet mandatory Commute Trip Reduction Goals. “Since implementing these work options will help employers meet these goals anyway, construction on I-5 provides an excellent opportunity to give them a try,” she says.
WSU’s Energy Program provides complete information resources that employers need to institute telework, flex time or compressed work weeks.
Services and materials include:
- One-on-one counseling and training.
- Telework implementation training guidebooks.
- Handbooks on managing work options.
- Telework training videos.
For more information or to arrange a consultation, call Scott Decker, (360) 956-2055 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Seattle and King County Economic Development Council’s Commuter Challenge Program also has resources on alternative work strategies. Call Cathy Cole, (206) 389-8650.
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