Are you one of the millions of people across Asia enduring a painful daily commute on clogged roads? If the answer is yes, a solution may be close at hand.
As traffic jams worsen and public transport gets more crowded, Asian cities are increasingly looking for ways to ease the strain. The other day I read with interest that the Senate of the Philippines has passed a bill to encourage companies to adopt “work from home” policies to address Manila’s notorious traffic jams.
Increasing congestion on urban roads presents a serious threat to the economic sustainability of our cities. A study in 2014 by the Japan International Cooperation Agency estimated that traffic congestion cost Manila Php2.4 billion (over $41 million) a day, and this figure could rise to Php6 billion in the near future.
If the Philippine law is successfully implemented, it would not only reduce traffic congestion; it could also enhance employee productivity and reduce air pollution and carbon emissions.
Working from home—also known as teleworking or telecommuting—entails performing a job remotely, from your home or another location. It’s a transport demand management strategy—one of several options that aim to reduce travel demand, or to redistribute this demand in space or time.
Many of us can work from home quite easily in this digital age, as information is stored in the data cloud, and most people have access to fast computers. For those of us who spend the better part of the day working on computers, it is quite immaterial whether we work from the office, home, or a coffee shop.
If there are clear objectives and timelines, employees should have the freedom to figure out where and when they do their work.
Will working from home ease traffic snarls? This of course is the million-dollar question and the answer will likely decide whether other countries follow the Philippines’ example. The answer is that it probably will have an impact – particularly during peak hours.
Encouraging telecommuting will remove a significant number of commuters from the roads during the busiest parts of the day. People who work the full day from home or adopt flexible schedules will help reduce peak hour traffic. This will also help free up road space on the most congested routes, as well as relieve the stress on public transport.
Work-from-home policies can certainly make a difference
No policy is perfect. The Philippines’ work-from-home legislation, for example, might cut peak-period trips but might not reduce total vehicle travel. For example, vehicles no longer used for the office commute might take families on other journeys, and perhaps even more intensively than before.
People who work from home may decide to live even further from their offices thus increasing the city sprawl. Hence there could be several unexpected effects that could negate some of the estimated benefits of this policy.
The bottom line, however, is that peak-hour congestion is one of the biggest challenges confronting Asia’s cities. Work-from-home policies can certainly make a difference.
It also makes sense to couple this policy with other traffic demand management strategies – particularly those that discourage driving. In Manila, there is already a number coding scheme that restricts vehicle use based on the final digit of the vehicle's license plate on certain days of the week.
So if employers allow employees to work from home on days when the number coding means they can’t use their vehicles, it would be a win-win for everyone, and improve the effectiveness of number coding as well.
As is the case for all policies, implementation is the key to success. The proposed law is not mandatory, but instead gives employers the discretion to offer telecommuting to their workers. It’s crucial therefore that companies and organizations commit to work-from-home.
The good news is that several large companies in the Philippines are already implementing work-from-home arrangements. Hopefully, the new legislation will give impetus to these efforts, and encourage more firms to introduce similar arrangements.
Traffic jams will surely worsen, in Manila and elsewhere in Asia, without innovative solutions. Firms are certainly more receptive today to proposals for flexible work arrangements. After all, time not wasted on a bad commute can be time spent being productive instead.
Incentives to work from home are welcome. It won’t work for everyone. But if it takes off, everyone would benefit.