Virtual Companies Keep Running Through Irene. Is That Good?

Image credit: Xystance, used under Creative Commons license

As Hurricane Irene breaks NYC rainfall records, attention seems to be turning to what its final cultural and economic impact may be. An interesting little lesson, which many of us who work from home will already know, is the role telecommuting can play in creating a more resilient, stable economy. In fact that is one of the reasons cited on the radio this morning for why markets seemed relatively buoyant, despite Irene shutting down much of NYC. Many folks were simply able to work from home.

But if you're working from home temporarily, and would like to make it permanent, how do you make that shift? And, on a wider note, should keeping our economic machine rolling through every storm even be a goal of ours? Snow days are kind of important too...Virtual Organizations Keep Running
From telecommuting reducing emissions and saving money to 5 innovations that make working from home even greener, we've given telecommuting a lot of love over the years. And it's not surprising. Most TreeHugger contributors work from home at least some of the time, and while we don't get to play hooky on snow days, we do rest safe in the knowledge that we can avoid traffic jams or inclement weather hazards, and our well-oiled green machine keeps running despite what Mother Nature may throw at us.

Telecommuting Creates a more Resilient Economy
The fact is that while our age of hyper-mobility may have left us more vulnerable to inclement weather, we are also living in an age of virtual mobility. Those of us who work from home anyway may take it for granted, but today there will be thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of workers who can carry on as normal while never having to leave their houses. Take this report from a fellow Treehugger when I broached the subject at our virtual water cooler:

On the anecdotal side, we've got a full house here of people working from home, as downed trees have shut down trains running into Manhattan.

So while in days gone by we would have seen many days of lost work until travel was once again possible, many companies and organizations today find themselves reluctantly thrown into a virtual organizing world—and the chances are they will do just fine in it.

Forced Telecommuting as Teaching Moment?
This isn't just a powerful stabilizer for our economy—it has the potential to be a teaching moment for reducing our environmental impact too. So if you happen to be a regular commuter forced to work from home for the day, why not start thinking about how you can make it a regular occurrence? It may be that you yourself were nervous to take the plunge, or your boss was reluctant to let workers telecommute. Whatever the barriers were, look on today as a test day—pay attention to how well you work from home, and draw attention to that fact when you get back into the office. And then think about how much better it would work if you had systems already set up to do so.

But Forced Downtime is Important Too
There is, of course, a word of caution to be had too. Because economic productivity is not everything. About a year back a realtor friend/client of mine sent me an email about snow days. In response to a "what you can do to remain productive on a snow day" email that was circulating realtor listserves, my buddy and his colleagues had compiled a list of "what you can do to get maximum enjoyment from your snow day." From day drinking to sledding to building snowmen, the list was as fun as it was important. Just as workations risk derailing our already limited downtime, losing our snow days and hurricane days to telecommuting means losing an occasional, temporary and in some ways healthy forced pause on our juggernaut of "productivity".

I suspect the secret lies in embracing the best of the virtual economy—but also adapting our working patterns to fit the modern environment. In a world where we can be reached by our bosses 24/7, year-round, it becomes increasingly important to ask whether we should be so accessible. By all means let's learn how temporary telecommuting can free us up from the hideous daily commute, and make our companies and organizations better able to cope with disruption. But let's not forget that we all need to play more too. After all, slow business is good business.

More on Telecommuting and Work-Life Balance
Slow Business: a Manifesto for Reclaiming Our Lives
Jargon Watch: Workations

Tags: Economics | Transportation | United States


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