New spins on work/life balance

By now, practically anyone you ask can name at least two or three benefits of telework. Although it’s a great way to improve worker productivity, reduce company costs and decrease traffic congestion and car emissions in one fell swoop, telework doesn’t suit every situation. One company, ProximateCommute, has looked beyond the home office to develop alternative and complementary solutions to “traditional” telework.

Swapping jobs

What if your company offered you the same job with the same pay with half the commute? That’s the idea behind ProximateCommute, a firm that helps companies with multiple locations rearrange their employees so they work at the branch closest to home.

Gene Mullins first came up with this simple concept while sitting in traffic on Interstate 5 in Seattle in 1992. “I was watching people driving in opposite directions to do similar jobs. So I went to a local bank, got the ZIP codes for the employees of three branches and plotted their commutes manually. I was right. Only 17 per cent of employees worked at the bank branch closest to home.”

When Mullins started pitching his idea to Seattle-area companies, he thought middle managers would be the hardest sell, assuming they’d argue that they work hard to get teams to work well together. But in fact, they wanted it most. “They’re the ones dealing with employees who are unhappy, who are late, who quit and who need to take a full day off to take their kids to the doctor. They understood immediately the value of having employees working close to home,” he said.

Although Mullins won’t offer details, he said he’s putting the finishing touches on ProximateCommute Online, a systems-based application that lets employees log on and search for similar, shorter-commute jobs with the same employer. The program maps and details their current commute time, distance, cost and pollution generated, and compares those with the shorter commutes identified by the program.

ProximateCommute is an excellent solution for workers who can’t do their jobs at home. Mullins’ first clients were Puget Sound Bank and Key Bank, which merged during this project. Even with internal turf struggles, Mullins said he decreased employees’ commute times by 65 per cent (for those who relocated), and for all the 30 sites by 17 per cent overall. Since then, Mullins has done feasibility studies for cities, departments and agencies in Washington and other states that have uncovered startling results. For instance, in one West Coast city, only 4 per cent of firemen work at the firehouse closest to home; only 11 per cent of library employees, and just 27 per cent of Starbucks’ employees worked at their respective jobs’ closest location.

Besides saving time that can be better spent with family, the program also puts money in the pockets of employees. At Key Bank, each employee saved $2,600 per year, 300 gallons of gas, 6,000 pounds of carbon dioxide.

Today, Mullins is in frequent discussions with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, which is interested in lessening U.S. dependence on foreign oil.