Recently, an expert report initiated by the Israeli Society of Ecology and Environmental Sciences in collaboration with the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Transport and Safety, recommends that public and private sector employers adopt the model of working remotely, thus helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution and of course, to reduce road congestion.
Apart from contributing to a healthier environment, working remotely might help employers to save money on transportation and office space, as well as promoting equal opportunities in the employment market.
Employers who let their employees work remotely allow them to spend less time at the office and work part of the time (and in some places even all the time) from somewhere else: either from home, the municipal library, shared workspaces, or from regional business centers.
The popularity of this model gained momentum in the early 2000s due to today’s convenient access to technology, infrastructure, internet, and due to the demand of generation Y – which largely dictated the nature of the labor market in the past decade – flexibility.
While this is not an entirely new trend, today, 72 percent of Human Resource managers around the world, as conducted in a survey conducted by LinkedIn, noted that workplace flexibility is the key trend in 2019.
Less spending on real estate, transportation, and parking
The countries that have the highest rates of employees working remotely are the Netherlands, with 14%, and Finland with 13.3%. In the US, as early as 2004, 19% of public sector employees worked from home at least one day a week. In 2016, this number had reached 22%.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), in Israel, the rate of remote workers is on the rise, reaching 3.4% in 2016. However, this figure also includes employees whose workplace was previously at home (dentists, artists, cosmetician and more).
In recent surveys, which were conducted in association with the “moving toward green” experiment (a plan by the Ministry of Transport to encourage workers to travel during off-peak traffic hours), it was found that 3% of Israelis work from home on a part-time basis. Another 3% consider home their permanent workplace.
Remote work can be linked to considerable social and economic advantages. From a social standpoint, working from home can open up employment opportunities for people with physical disabilities that make it difficult to go to an office.
Additionally, remote work might benefit parents who want or need to stay home with their children, as it makes easier for them to integrate careers into their family life. Since it is often women who take on this role, the implementation of remote work can lead to the promotion of employment among women.
Also, remote work increases employment opportunities for peripheral residents, who live far away from urban centers and who struggle to commute on a daily basis.
Economically, remote work has the potential to save the employer costs on office space, electricity, cleaning expenses, transportation, and parking.
Lastly, there is one advantage of remote work, which might exceed all the aforementioned benefits in importance, as it affects not only every member of society but the environment as well: climate change.
Utilizing remote work as a policy tool could potentially reduce travel time (the total distance traveled by motor vehicles) and road congestions. That is, employing workers in remote working conditions (regularly or a few days per week) can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, which contribute to climate change and cause morbidity and early mortality of over 2,000 people a year in Israel.
“Traveling in a private vehicle, particularly, in congested areas, produces many environmental damages,” explains Dr. Nivi Kessler, who was a fellow of the Mimshak Science and Policy Fellowship Program at the Ministry of Environmental Protection. “These damages are reflected in increased emissions of air pollutants. Roads are widened or new ones are paved, which in turn, results in the fragmentation and loss of open space and pollution of water sources.”
850 million hours are wasted on the roads
According to a state comptroller’s report released in March 2019, over the past 40 years, the density of vehicular traffic in Israel has tripled.
At present, according to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the traffic density on Israeli roads is 3.5 times higher than the average in the other OECD member states – and in the coming years, this situation is expected to only get worse.
According to the 2012 Strategic Plan for the Development of Public Transport in Israel by the Ministry of Transport, by 2030, Israeli citizens will spend an estimated total of 850 million hours a year in traffic.
This number is based on the expected population growth, which according to the CBS forecast, will reach 11 million residents by 2030, along with the growing number of private vehicles being purchased and used, and the lack of sufficient investment in public transport infrastructure.
It is estimated that wasted time in traffic will result in a loss of NIS 25 billion ($7.2 billion USD) in GDP per year, partly due to a loss of working hours, fuel consumption, air pollution, and accelerated road wear and tear. More recent estimates, with even more severe projections, predict that by 2030 Israelis will spend about 1.1 billion hours per year in traffic, resulting in an annual loss of about NIS 31 billion ($8.95 billion USD) each year.
To mitigate the congestion problem, the Ministry of Transport has prepared strategic plans that include building a Metro network and a light rail system in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area as well as expanding the railway network across the country. However, the Ministry estimates that these changes will help reduce only 12-16 percent of private car travel, compared to a target set by the government to reduce private travel by 20 percent by 2030.
Encouraging employees to work remotely could potentially decrease the gap between the target set by the government and the actual expected reduction. By the very least, working remotely has the potential to reduce the commute time in Israel, which would result in less traffic, air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, noise pollution, car accidents, and car wear and tear.
While remote work might have a positive effect on reducing traffic, according to the Expert Committee report, remote work policies can also create new travel:
Free time management may encourage remote workers to use their private vehicles for different needs, such as shopping or transporting children, although these are usually different time and distance journeys due to remote work.
“There is no consensus on the effectiveness of this congestion mitigation measure,” explains Dr. Edo Klein, who is a Fellow of the Science Implementation Program in the Government, at the Department of Transportation and Road Safety. “We end up living in a world of equilibrium. In the case of traffic, working remotely has the potential to clear the roads in the first phase.
In the second phase, however, people who avoid peak hour travel, or use public transportation and carpooling may decide to move to a private vehicle due to traffic congestion relief, thus creating a new equilibrium in the road system similar to the first-stage equilibrium.”
Nonetheless, the overall effect of remote work is essentially positive, even in this extreme situation where a new equilibrium and congestion will be created.
Remote work from local business centers can strengthen the outskirts of metropolitan areas; Employees and employers, both, can benefit from this situation.
For commuting employees, less travel time would mean less stress and a reduction in travel expenses, which in turn, could result in increased job satisfaction and a higher ability to balance work and family life.
Employers could benefit from operational cost savings and increased employee motivation and productivity.
This ZAVIT article was also published in The Jerusalem Post on 02/03/2020.