This post was authored by Salem Kimble, social media development manager with BetterWorld Telecom.

Carpocalypse

Business and commutes were at a standstill in the San Francisco Bay Area yesterday after an extreme fire in West Oakland put the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) commuter train system completely out of service between San Francisco and cities in the East Bay. The resultant traffic and chaos from commuters attempting alternate methods of transportation including ferries, buses, and carpooling likely resulted in something of a local holiday – as highways turned into parking lots. In the Bay Area, and many urban corridors, growing population density puts individuals and businesses at the mercy of transit systems that are both fallible and already pushed to capacity.

If your organization has flexible work systems in place, then a "carpocalypse" such as this won't have nearly the destructive impact that it otherwise could on your team's productivity. Creating company policy that effectively utilizes telecommuting and harnesses communication technology is a matter of resiliency and adaptation, not a radical leap or indulgent management style. The future of work requires this shift in managerial mindset. Despite the fact that many knowledge workers could efficiently and effectively do their work from home, most organizations default to a management and evaluation style designed for factory workers. It's time for policy to match reality; we need to work more intelligently – for our health, productivity, and transportation sanity.

Remote Work 

But maybe you're not convinced. What does remote work look like exactly? What about the burden to have a home office, the benefits of face-to-face, the prestige of a nice office, and coffee chat time? The reality is that shifting to a more flexible telecommuting model with your organization is likely to be a bit like a new exercise routine. The best tactic is to start small and build up a system that is tested and optimal for your team, activity, and industry. Obviously not all jobs can be done effectively in a remote work framework. The end game is not a one-size-fits-all solution; it is more about facing the reality that without this flexibility, your business and team are vulnerable to disasters like yesterday morning's commute on the Bay Bridge.

Workplace Evolution 

BetterWorld Telecom, a TechSoup donation partner, has helped organizations as they shift to a more virtual work environment. BetterWorld created a framework for working more effectively, called BetterWork (TM). The BetterWork whitepaper contains the findings from a nine-month study at Bainbridge Graduate Institute on the impact of virtualization of communications infrastructure and remote work. Another great resource for creating telecommuting policies is a previous blog post by Jim Lynch, a seasoned TechSoup expert. In addition, BetterWorld has collected dozens of related whitepapers, websites, and other resources on Delicious.  

The majority of academic research in this area has been funded or motivated by transportation improvement efforts. But the benefits for organizations and workers extend far beyond decreasing wasted hours spent sitting in traffic. Satisfaction, productivity, loyalty – in study upon study, all of these measures improve with a flexible work environment. For optimal productivity and organizational resiliency, flexible work needs to be taken seriously. This effort needs to be moved out of the category of traffic mitigation and into the spotlight as the key to our future – evolving our workplace frameworks to catch up with the reality of this modern world.

What steps can you take to build a resilient organization? Are you prepared for a bridge closure, severe weather, or public transit failure? The successful companies and organizations of tomorrow will be the ones that implement resilient, flexible work structures today.

More Resources

Virtual Work, Real Success 

How to Work Across a Distributed Team

How Online Work Can Save America