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Sustainable Missoula: Post-COVID telework key to carbon-reduction goals

In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, companies and organizations began asking their employees to work from home in early March, 2020. By March 28th, Montana was following an official stay at home directive from Gov. Steve Bullock.

Restaurants, schools, gyms, offices, salons and many retail stores closed and gatherings were prohibited. Since then, lives have been upended and businesses of all sizes and sectors have been staying afloat from their kitchens, bedrooms, dining room tables and couches. Recent data shows that 50% of all American workers have been working from home since the pandemic began.

Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, people teleworking across the world have “been part of an involuntary ‘pilot project,’” said New Urban Mobility Alliance director Harriet Tregoning. “Many employers who thought they couldn’t or shouldn’t allow it, have been surprised at the results.”

Missoula City Council member Jordan Hess agreed, “While the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the lives and livelihoods of tens of millions of people, there are lessons we can learn from the changes we had to make. Telecommuting is a truly sustainable mode of transportation and a workplace benefit for many people.”

Missoula In Motion, a program within the City’s Transportation Division, has been promoting teleworking as a sustainable commuting option for 15 years and has resources to support employers who need help navigating this option. Some of the benefits for employees include a boost in productivity, an increase in flexibility and job satisfaction, lower stress levels, a better work life balance, lower personal costs and transportation costs, a higher quality of life and a more trusting relationship among colleagues and management.

For businesses and organizations, teleworking reduces parking, real estate, maintenance and employee recruitment costs while greatly reducing overall environmental impact. It also allows for business continuity if an emergency arises. Not only does teleworking reduce the number of cars on the road to create a safer and healthier environment for everyone, it also reduces or eliminates a company’s dependence on oil, waste disposal and overall consumption.

Large scale employers across the country are certainly recognizing the widespread benefits linked to teleworking and are starting to shift how they approach a workplace. Facebook, Twitter and Google have all announced they will give most of its workforce the option of working remotely permanently. Google has even offered all employees a $1,000 allowance to improve their at home work spaces.

Missoula employers including Advanced Technology Group (ATG) and Homeword are also on board. Homeword staff member Jessica Burson lives in the Bitterroot and has greatly benefited from the option to work from home a couple days a week.

“Homeword had a telework policy in place prior to COVID-19 that allowed manager-approved telework for certain positions. COVID-19 activated mandatory telework throughout our organization. Not only have we reduced our emissions even more than we were before, but all employees have benefited from the ability to work from home as a measure to keep themselves and their loved ones safe and healthy,” Jessica explained.

Similarly, Kate Pace, ATG’s Operations Specialist said, “As a technology consulting company with a global client base, our team has long celebrated the convenience and effectiveness of telecommuting. When we made the decision to ask all our employees to work from home starting March 17, our team was fortunate to be able to shift to that model quickly, with little disruption to project work. As the months have passed, we are working hard to translate our community collaboration and culture initiatives into a virtual space.”

Although extremely encouraging, it’s important to note that teleworking is not possible for all positions and that there are access disparities within teleworking. “It is difficult to telecommute if you don’t have a safe, comfortable home, if you lack childcare options, or if you can’t afford a computer or internet access. There are equity issues in telecommuting that we need to address to elevate telecommuting as a realistic commute option,” reminded Jordan Hess.

Perhaps most convincing to adopting official telework policies, is its environmental benefits. Throughout the pandemic, global emissions fell an unprecedented 17 percent. Furthermore, emissions from surface transportation, one of the nation’s and Missoula’s largest sources of C02, fell 36 percent at the peak of the shutdowns.

But as promising as these dramatic reductions in greenhouse gasses are, the expectation is that we will quickly rebound when economies start to pick up again. Responding proactively and embracing a more permanent shift towards telecommuting, even just one or two days a week, will combat a spike in emissions.

Now is a perfect opportunity for Missoula employers to permanently adjust how they do business so we can reduce our emissions in the long term. Currently, teleworking is a necessary response to a terrible crisis. But in a post pandemic world, it will certainly help us achieve our environmental goals, raise productivity, and improve job satisfaction.

To learn more about sustainable commuting and view sample telework policies, head to missoulainmotion.com/telecommute.

Margaret Hoyt is the Program Specialist at Missoula In Motion. This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every week by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Sustainability Happenings

As COVID-19 has postponed or cancelled many community events, some have moved on-line or found creative outlets. Here we offer ideas about sustainable ways to stay involved in our community and a handful of compelling readings. If you like these offerings, consider signing up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter here. And sign up for Home ReSource’s eNews via their homepage here.

It’s farmer’s market season! The markets look different this year to protect public health, but both the Missoula Farmer’s Market (at the XXXXs) and the Clark Fork Market will have online ordering for pickup at the market available throughout the season, starting May 23. Check their websites for more details. CFAC also has a great list of local food resources for consumers.

June 13 & 14. Trail Ambassador Training. As a trail ambassador for the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, you can help educate visitors at popular trails about proper LNT principles, bear protocols, and more! These training sessions will prepare you to volunteer as a trail ambassador. Details and sign up here.

June 17. Family FieldStudies: Monarchs, Milkweed, & Mysteries. This virtual series, hosted by Montana Natural History Center, features two engaging videos that introduce the life cycle of monarchs, the relationship between monarchs and milkweed, defenses of the monarch, parasitoids and captive rearing of this amazing arthropod. Participants are encouraged to submit questions to scientist Maggie Hirschauer, which will be answered during the live stream on June 17 from 10-11:30am. Registration details here.

Missoulaevents.net has many virtual activities listed – they’re stepping up to help us all stay engaged.

What we’re reading (and listening to) this week: