One small silver-lining from 2020 is the broad realization that a great deal of work can now be done as well or even better without travel. Reducing unnecessary travel is the single most immediate and efficient way to mitigate climate change. Not only is it practically ‘free’, it actually saves time and money for individuals and organizations, while improving productivity. As an added bonus, it saves billions of dollars on infrastructure expansion and maintenance. And best of all? It’s not some far off technology. We’ve already been doing it for over a year.
What follows is a template for simple legislation that can easily be enacted by any size of government–from Municipal to Federal. We know this because: we already did it in 2020. The only trick is to make this better way of working permanent.
The Remote Works Better Act: a legislative proposal
Remote Work and Remote Attendance should be the preferred option for employees whenever possible–unless the task to be performed can be shown to work demonstrably better otherwise. For this discussion, we’ll broadly define both “Remote Work” and “Remote Attendance” as “work without travel”.)
- Every job description should be reviewed to determine if it can be successfully performed via Remote Work. Any job description which was judged to have been performed successfully in 2020 will be considered to meet those criteria. (A ‘successful’ job description review means a job which can be done at least as well, if not better, via Remote Work.)
- Any employee who’s job performance goals in 2020 were similar to those in 2019–and who successfully met those goals in 2020 using Remote Work will be directed to continue to do so.
- Employees should be given a mechanism by which they may apply to opt-out of Remote Work either temporarily or permanently, either for personal reasons or if they can demonstrate that the job cannot be performed as well via Remote Work.
Remote Attendance vs. Travel
- Before granting any request for travel expenses, an employee must first check to see if the same task can be accomplished via Remote Attendance–and if it can, the authorizing department will facilitate that task via Remote Attendance. For example, if a professional conference is being held in another state, the employee must determine if there is a Remote Attendance option–and if there is, the authorizing department will make arrangements for Remote Attendance.
- Any off-site meeting or event which was conducted successfully in 2020 via Remote Attendance will automatically be considered eligible for Remote Attendance going forward.
- Any department responsible for approving travel expenses and event attendance will make every effort to insure that future events offer a Remote Attendance option.
- Travel expenses may still be allowable for Remote Attendance-eligible events on a case by case basis. To qualify, the employee must demonstrate that the activity will be better accomplished on-site rather than via Remote Attendance.
- To promote adoption of these policies, all employees and departments will establish targets for both Remote Work and Remote Attendance. These targets will be based on productivity comparisons with 2020. If the work product of a particular job description or event is judged to be as successful in 2020 via Remote Work and Remote Attendance as in prior years, the targets for those employees and departments should remain at least as high.
Postscript: The inertia problem
Remote Work and Remote Attendance have actually been practical technologies for almost twenty years. And many organizations have technically had Remote Work policies for at least ten. But adoption was almost non-existent for most workers until COVID-19. In short: the Remote Work/Remote Attendance option was only made widely available when it became the only option.
The past year has been a grand experiment to gauge the effects of wide adoption of Remote Work and Remote Attendance and the results are clear: it is a stunning success. Many tasks and events work much better via R/W and R/A than they do when people travel to a shared workplace or event.
The purpose of this legislation, then, is simply to maintain and build on the improvements gained in the past year, by incentivizing workers and decision makers to continue utilizing R/W and R/A. Remote Work saves time, money, improves productivity–and will help save the planet. There is no sacrifice and no downside.