mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Fight The Crisis! Telecommute!

Sandy’s devastating flood surge is the worst disaster in the 108 year history of the New York subway system, and it now looks as if much if not all of the system will be closed for the rest of the week and possibly longer.

We can hope that it will take another 108 years till something worse comes along, but between nature, terrorists, and other dangers lurking out there, we would be foolish to count on it.

The simplest and best civil defense measure we can take to reduce the impact of such shutdowns: wherever possible, metro area employers should gear up to make it easier for employees to do their jobs from home. Many of course already have done so, and New York will benefit hugely this week from the ability of so many people to work efficiently without coming into the office. Even at Via Meadia, our contributing writers are working online this week from their homes in Brooklyn, Baltimore, and Washington DC, and communicating through instant messaging software and Skype. The show will go on even if none of us can get out on the road.

The shift is happening naturally, but with some leadership from government, more companies could integrate telecommuting into their civil defense and disaster planning. In an emergency, many fewer workers would need to commute, dramatically reducing the strain on the transport system—and also reducing the economic impact of the disaster.

What makes sense in emergencies can also help in normal times. Federal, state and local governments in our part of the world are always looking for something to do. Here’s an answer: Something like half of all jobs in the New York area can in fact be phoned in. There is no physical reason why people have to drag themselves on hour long commutes across the city five days a week. Some jobs require one or two days a week in the workplace, some more—and some less.

Making work flexible and liberating more people from the ritual of the daily commute makes good environmental, human and financial sense. It is also a vital part of civil defense in a dangerous time.

The huge and well organized infrastructure lobby will hate this idea and try to smother it, but the advantages to firms, to employees and to cities and states are so immense that ultimately, we think the logic will have to prevail. In the meantime, Mayor Bloomberg, promoting telecommuting and the development of emergency stay at home work plans in the name of civil defense is something you can do that helps the city and costs almost zilch.

Features Icon
© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service