Commuting Is Evil
It goes against Aldo Leopold's Golden Rule.
Quote of the Moment
A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.
| Aldo Leopold
1 Commuting is Evil
The arguments in favor of returning to the office for work dwindle to insignificance when compared to the environmental damage -- especially CO2 pollution -- caused by commuting, at least until we have zero-emissions commuting.
How much co2 does commuting create?
I will string together a few factoids to come up with a general estimate of just how much carbon emissions come from commuting in America.
From Julie Chen in Is Remote Work Greener? We Calculated Buffer’s Carbon Footprint to Find Out, I pulled out some data, such as these:
The average American commutes to work by car just under one hour each day – roughly 32 miles, which equates to about 3.2 tonnes of CO2 per person every year.
130 million Americans commuted (2016) by car, truck, or van. I calculate: 3.2 tonnes/per driving commuter * 130 million commuters (2017 numbers) = 416 million tonnes/year.
There are approximately 100 million knowledge workers in the US (2017). Overall, the US produced (2019) 6,558 million metric tons (14.5 trillion pounds) of carbon dioxide equivalents.
So, the bottom line: commuting accounts for approximately 16% of US emissions. We can’t stop retail and other workers from commuting to their jobs, but 100 million knowledge workers could stay home. Again, Julie Chen tells us,
The daily commute to and from work accounts for more than 98% of an employee’s work-related carbon footprint. Having the choice not to commute feels like a great way to cut our carbon footprint.
Considering that 80% of remote workers are working from home, 20% are working outside the office and the home, but probably close to their homes.
The Bottom Line
Considering what’s at stake, companies should drop their efforts to get people back into the office, until a time when commuting is truly zero emissions, which might take years.
Corporate leaders who make weak-ass arguments about onsite brainstorming or the value of in-person learning should reexamine what is at stake: huge amounts of carbon being dumped into the atmosphere.
No more handwaving at negative externalities just because idiotic economic policies accept the hidden costs of commuting. (We did that for decades with tobacco and seat belts, but have turned the corner on those.) Leaving aside the arguments for wasted time commuting, wellbeing, work-life balance, and freedom from the petty tyrannies and microaggressions inherent in workplaces, just think of the emissions.
The paramount issue of the day — look at the droughts, heatwaves, and wild fires raging worldwide — is climate change. Forget for a moment the temporary spike in gas prices, if you can. Just focus on this even/over list.
Everyone should commit to keep global warming under a rise of 1.5º Celcius even over all other considerations
Companies should put employee wellbeing even over corporate profits and other strategic ends
Companies should research and implement techniques and technology to minimize commuting (minimum viable office) even over benefits hypothetically gained by all hands back in the office.
Those that advocate for returning to prepandemic commuting generally do so without acknowledging the environmental and human costs involved. They conveniently compartmentalize this off, disregarding the direct link between environmental degradation and commuting. And we should push back every single time.
2 Joan Williams and Lee Bryant
How One Company Worked to Root Out Bias from Performance Reviews | Joan C. Williams, Denise Lewin Loyd, Mikayla Boginsky, and Frances Armas-Edwards
An audit of bias in performance reviews at a midsized law firm found sobering differences by both race and gender. The authors identified four patterns of bias in the evaluations and recommended two simple changes for the following year:
1) Reworking the performance evaluation form to break job categories down into competencies and require that ratings be backed by at least three pieces of evidence; and
2) Developing a simple, one-hour workshop in which participants were introduced to the patterns of bias and learned how to use the new form.
One year later, people of color and women got more constructive feedback, and the playing field was leveled for everyone: Whereas white men had longer, more complex evaluations in year one, in year two, both word count and language complexity were similar across all groups. While there was still room for improvement, the intervention showed that evidence-based metrics can help companies make steady progress and improve outcomes for everyone.
The four patterns of bias (paraphrased):
1. Prove It Again — ‘“prove-it-again” groups tend to be judged on their performance — their mistakes are noticed more and remembered longer — while the majority white men are judged on their potential.’
2. The Tightrope — ‘White men simply need to be authoritative and ambitious in order to succeed, but women and people of color risk being seen as overly aggressive or “difficult” if they behave the same way.’
3. The Maternal Wall — ‘This reflects assumptions that mothers are no longer committed to their work, that they probably shouldn’t be, and that they are less competent. (Think “pregnancy brain.”) One of our most shocking findings was that almost 20% of white women received comments on their performance evaluations to the effect that they did not want to make partner.’ An assumption, the authors believe.
4. Racial Stereotypes — ‘Racial stereotypes pertaining to performance evaluations can be overt, such as the stereotype that Asian Americans are good at technical tasks but lack leadership ability, or more subtle, such as the assumption that people of color need to be more willing to sacrifice work-life balance than white men.’
Joan Williams is also the source of this quotation:
The only thing holding back flexible work arrangements was a failure of imagination. That failure was remedied in three weeks’ time in March 2020. | Joan Williams, director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings, cited by Emma Goldberg in After Two Years of Remote Work, Workers Question Office Life
Lee Bryant offers us an insight into two modes of synchronous work in Two tips for accelerating the path towards smarter digital workplaces, ‘ambient synchronous’ vs ‘full-face’ synchronous:
A lot of the debate about new ways of working in hybrid workplaces has centred around the balance between synchronous and asynchronous collaboration or co-working. I have been doing a lot of leadership development work in large organisations all over the world on how to design and curate the hybrid digital workplace, and it has made me think about the gap between my experience of always-on synchronous connection with colleagues, and their experience of the same.
The key difference, I think, is the nature of synchronous connection in both cases. I love to stay in touch with what my immediate team are working on, thinking about and linking to; and when necessary, we dip into chat mode to answer questions, clarify or solve minor issues. Sometimes, we might even go full-face synchronous and have a call or a “meeting”. In contrast, for the organisations I have been working with, the synchronous mode is almost always a meeting, run in the traditional way. As this recent piece from InfoQ points out, even fast-moving agile projects can use asynchronous modes effectively.
The cognitive overhead of the ambient synchronous mode is low, and I find it an enriching experience that helps the team stay connected; but the latter ‘full-face’ synchronous mode is exhausting, frustrating and would probably make me gradually hate my colleagues. I would rather save the full-face mode for urgent crises, workshops and ideation, or even better a wonderful conversation over food. It turns out we can process a lot more information than we are aware if it is ambient, indirect and not demanding of our full attention bandwidth.
3 Other Things
In Amazon Engineer Sues for Work From Home Costs, Suzanne Lucas reports on a suit for reimbursement for increased utilities from out-of-office work. How about umpteen years of commuting costs with interest, while we’re at it?
Great Resignation to continue, one in five likely to switch jobs | Goh Chiew Tong: ‘A survey by PwC of more than 52,000 workers in 44 countries indicates the Great Resignation is set to continue. Some 35% say they plan to ask their employers for a pay raise, with the pressure highest in the tech sector. More money is the biggest motivator for a job change, yet finding fulfillment at work is “just as important,” according to PwC.’
I think a lot about WFH vs. RTO.