A New Spin on Commuting

In lieu of answering a question today, here’s a Public Service Announcement.

Bike_to_Work_000061401812National Bike to Work Week is May 16-20, 2016, with May 20 designated as Bike to Work Day. The reasons for bicycle commuting are wide-ranging:

  • Lessen your environmental impact – Bike commuting reduces air, water, and noise pollution.
  • Physical fitness and well-being – In addition to the cardiovascular benefits, the release of endorphins can energize you, enabling you to mentally tackle your day. You may even lose weight; here’s a cycling calorie calculator.
  • Reduce health care needs and expenses – A bike ride a day may keep the doctor away, saving health care costs for both employers and employees. Momentum Mag estimates that individuals could save $544 a year.
  • Save (more) money – It costs approximately $350 year to operate a bike vs. $8,700 annually for the average car.
  • Save time – Americans spend about 6.9 billion hours a year stuck in traffic, according to the recent Urban Mobility Scorecard. Whizzing by cars in commuter gridlock feels oh so good.

Bicycle commuting is not without its challenges. You’ll need access to secure bike storage so your two-wheeled vehicle is where you left it for the commute home. For safety’s sake, be sure to obey all traffic rules, use designated bicycle lanes, and wear a helmet. (Combat “helmet head” with some dry shampoo you keep at the office.)

On the subject of appearance, you don’t want to arrive at work looking like a hot mess. For a relatively easy commute, you could wear your work clothes (don’t forget to protect your pants from the bike chain). If you’re not lucky enough to be employed in a workplace with locker room and shower facilities, check nearby health clubs that may offer shower-only memberships.  Alternatively, you can use wet wipes in the bathroom to freshen up so as not to offend your coworkers’ olfactory sensibilities. A bike pannier is useful for lugging your laptop or a change of clothes to and fro (and you avoid that sweat stain under a backpack.)

This video from Go Redmond (in Washington’s “bicycle capital of the northwest”) offers some helpful bike commuting suggestions.

Many public buses have bike racks, so you can get to work fresh as a daisy, and then bicycle home and reward yourself with a hot shower. You’ll still reduce your carbon footprint by half. You may want to make alternate arrangements to get to work in inclement weather (or you could use these tips on biking in the rain).

More and more companies are making it easier for employees to bike to work. As part of its Cool Commute Incentives, Clif Bar offers employees $500 toward the purchase of a bicycle – if they use it to commute at least twice a month. Most of the 70 employees at backpack company Osprey Packs pedal to work and can earn around $500 a year with non-motorized commuting incentives. (The Bicycle Commuter Act allows employers to provide a tax-free reimbursement of up to $20 monthly to its bike commuters.)

Many tech companies, such as Google, Apple, and Facebook, even go so far as to maintain bicycle fleets on their campuses.  Learn more about how your company can be certified as a Bicycle Friendly Business.

Readers, how often – if ever – have you biked to work?

Have a question you would like to ask? Visit http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

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Four-Day Work Weeks

Dear Anita,

I just love 3-day weekends! How can I convince my manager to adjust my schedule to a 4-day work week permanently?

Dear, TGI Thursday,

Back in 1914, Henry Ford reduced The Ford Motor Company’s work week from 48 to 40 hours, believing that long hours decreased productivity. Is it time, 101 years later, to decrease the work week even further?

Not every company can embrace the four-day work week. Weekends (at least Sundays) were once sacred with the vast majority of businesses closing up shop. But in the late 1960s and early ’70s, more retail enterprises started opening on Saturdays and eventually many added Sundays to their schedules to increase or maintain profitability. Can your company’s business survive with a four-day week?

It’s a rare company that would offer you a 32-hour week for the same wage as your 40-hour week. One way to maintain productivity (and salary) is with a “compressed” work week, where 40 hours are scheduled into four days. Adjusting to a 10-hour day can be a challenge at first, but it does have its perks. If you’re getting to work an hour earlier and leaving an hour later, this may decrease your commute time since you’ll be driving during off-peak hours. A four-day week also cuts the cost of commuting, potentially saving employees 20% in gas. If you have kids in daycare, you may be able to cut childcare expenses as well (though finding a facility with extended hours could prove difficult).  While you’re compressing your work week, you’re also compressing your evenings. There will be less time to cram in all after-work activities — cooking, errands, kids’ homework, and — oh, yes, — pleasurable leisure activities!

4-Day_Week_000017443240If an entire company could go to a four-day work week, the business could potentially save 20% of its energy costs. However, some companies that implement four-day work weeks stagger employee schedules to provide adequate phone and email coverage for customers during the traditional five-day week. That can create logistical challenges for scheduling meetings and keeping all employees on-track. Businesses that operate 24/7 may find three 10-hour shifts creates unprofitable overlap.

After pondering the pros and cons yourself, approach your boss outlining the benefits to the company as well as employees. If management says no, you can always move the Netherlands, where the four-day work week is standard.

Readers: Would you prefer a compressed week in order to have year-round three-day weekends?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Stay or Quit?

Dear, Anita,

I’ve been unhappy at my current job for a while. I am butting heads with my moody supervisor, and the daily grind (not to mention the commute) is getting me down. But I make decent money and have pretty good benefits. How do I decide whether to stick it out or quit?

Dear, On the Fence,
IOn_the_Fence_iStock_000009524325_Smallf, like The Clash, you are asking yourself “Should I stay or should I go?,” take the time to write a list of the positives and negatives. Sometimes the grass looks greener elsewhere because you are stewing on the few aspects of your job that get you down instead of ruminating on all the plusses. Putting it down on paper – or in Excel – may lead to a visual “aha” moment.

An online decision tool like helpMYdecision adds weight to each factor in the choice. Are your salary and benefits extremely important (10) or not very (1)? (Answer this after looking at your monthly bills.) Does working at something meaningful rank higher than money for you? Is a more cooperative relationship with a boss a 7, a shorter commute a 5 or an 8? Does having an office with a window versus a cubicle not matter at all to you? After weighting the determinants, rate your current situation then let the computer give you its “Best Choice.”  Sometimes, when we ask advice, we are really just seeking validation for the choice we’ve subconsciously made. So take notice if you think hooray! when the decision appears, or if you feel disappointed. Then go with your gut.

Manager_Employee_Serious_SpeakIf you’ve decided to stay, see what you can do to repair your relationship with your boss. Relationships are based on trust. Can your boss count on you to do your assigned tasks? It’s even better if you “go the extra mile.” It’s your job to make your supervisor look good to her superiors and/or customers.  Perhaps her bad moods crop up after she’s had an unpleasant interaction with her boss over problems or productivity issues.  She’s only human and may unwittingly take it out on those around her. Try the “kill her with kindness” approach, no matter her mood. Find something – anything – to compliment. It may not happen overnight, but you may be surprised how a little positivity can change a relationship or an entire workplace.

If and when you leave your current job, don’t burn any bridges. Use that 2-week notice timeframe to tie up any loose ends and leave your replacement with an organized desk and files. Telling your supervisor exactly what you think of her management style on your last day won’t really help you or her.

But don’t leave until you’ve found another position. It’s easier to find a job if you have a job (there’s some psychology at play – if you’re currently employed, you’re obviously a desirable hire.)  And it may take you longer than you think to obtain better employment. Keep your pro and con list in mind when searching for a new job to keep from jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Readers: Are you contemplating quitting your job? Why?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Is Telecommuting Right for You and Your Company? Part 2

Dear, Anita,

I manage a department of 12. One of my employees is pregnant and wants to work from home – permanently – after the baby arrives. I’m concerned that this first-time mother is not being realistic about getting work done with an infant around. She’s a great worker and I don’t want to lose her. How can I decide whether to allow her to telecommute? If we do permit her to work from home, I feel like we will need new company policies, as other employees may want to work virtually as well. Any advice?

Dear, Doubting Thomas,

Last year, Yahoo! announced that all remote employees would need to come back to work in corporate offices. While telecommuting wasn’t working for Yahoo!, your company may be a different story.  In last week’s blog, we looked at telecommuting from an employee’s point of view (see Part 1).  Now, let’s contemplate the pros and cons from a manager’s mindset.

PROS

Increased Productivity. While not a given, many virtual employees and their supervisors notice an increase in productivity because they don’t have the typical office interruptions. Plus, there’s no time suck around the water cooler!

Flexible Schedules. While this sounds like a pro for the employee, it can also be a benefit to the employer. You may have a night owl, who can take a 5 p.m. e-mail from you and have a report back in your in-box by 8 a.m.

Working from home with a babyHappier Employees. Work-life balance is a key factor in job satisfaction. And who wouldn’t be in a better mood when the commute is down the hall and not down the bumper-to-bumper freeway?

Employee Retention. See above.

Top Talent. In the future, your company may be able to recruit by skill rather than by geographic location.

Reduced Overhead. While your company may not realize cost savings until it has many more virtual workers, some businesses note a decrease in real estate, infrastructure, HVAC, and electricity costs.

Decreased Carbon Footprint. If your business is interested in its environmental impact, the US Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) confirmed that the fuel savings more than compensate for the extra emissions from home-based offices.

No Snow Days. Virtual employees can still work during a polar vortex (assuming, of course, they don’t lose power)!

CONS

Equipment Costs. Computer, phone, high-speed Internet connection, printer – to set up a home office without stripping your company’s desks bare can be costly.

Long-Distance Tech Support. What happens when the power goes out or the Internet goes down at an employee’s home office? It may be harder for your IT department to deal with remote technical problems.

Supervision. It’s easy to be “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” when you aren’t walking by employees’ desks daily. Use random calls and e-mails to make sure the off-site employees are hard at work, until they’ve built up trust.

Communication. With so many videoconferencing and high-tech ways to stay in touch, I hesitate to include this on the “con” list. After all, how much time do you really spend interacting face-to-face (and not leaving an e-mail trail) with co-workers? Facetime or Skype meetings are beneficial. Perhaps regularly scheduled in-office days are necessary, or a combination of both teleconferencing and on-site presence.

Slacking. Make sure the deadlines for deliverables don’t slip. Of course, everyone is human and misses a target date on occasion. Just make sure it doesn’t become a habit. Self-motivated, disciplined individuals are the best candidates for virtual workers.

Creating/Maintaining Teams.  With this employee, you’ve had the advantage of previous face-to-face interaction, feedback, and mentoring. But creating teamwork and maintaining the corporate culture with new hires may be tricky.

If the pros outweigh the cons, give your new mom a telecommuting trial of 30, 60, or 90 days beyond her maternity leave. At that time, evaluate if the arrangement is working or whether you really do need her position to work within the office environment. Also, continue the check-ins at periodic intervals. Working at home with a three-month-old is far different than with a crawling six-month-old. What works at first may not work in the long-term.

Supervisors, do you have any tips to share for managing virtual workers?

Need some job advice? Anita Clew is happy to help. Click here to Ask Anita.

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Disclaimer

Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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