Telecommuting probe could support work-at-home
Miami-Dade residents who have enjoyed working from home during the coronavirus pandemic may have government-backed research to support their wishes to continue to do so.
The county’s transportation planning board last week ordered what promises to be the most comprehensive study to date of telecommuting as a congestion-reducing strategy here.
The study will take four months and cost $90,000, a scope of services from Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) Executive Director Aileen Bouclé’s office said.
While past county studies focused on remote work by government employees, the new study will look at “telecommuting and its various forms,” including telehealth, remote learning and work-from-home by employees in both the public and private sectors, the scope said.
Once completed, Ms. Bouclé’s staff wrote, it will “provide further recommendations in terms of policy making and economic incentives.”
Ms. Bouclé’s office is responsible for hiring a consultant to conduct the study, which is to proceed across several interrelated tasks and culminate in a final report and executive summary to be posted on the TPO website.
First, the consultant is to review “all relevant materials” from past and ongoing telecommuting case studies both prior to and during the Covid-19 crisis. The consultant must review programs already in place here and elsewhere and “identify the top relevant best practices.”
The consultant is then to collect “all available and relevant data,” including studies by the Federal Highway Administration, to analyze telecommuting pre- and post-coronavirus, traffic volumes and their economic effects, transit ridership, telecommuting survey results, transportation and technology infrastructure and feedback on remote learning and work programs.
After that, the consultant must assess how well a comprehensive, countywide, cross-industry and multi-sector telecommuting initiative in Miami-Dade would work. To do that, the consultant will have to analyze existing conditions, parse through telecommuting survey results and identify which industries here have jobs that can be done well away from the physical workspace.
Using the information gathered, the consultant must provide “a full comparative analysis of the effects of telecommuting during the Covid-19 pandemic,” as well as a “complete analysis describing the advantages and disadvantages of telecommuting and remote learning” in three areas: employment, environment and infrastructure.
Finally, the consultant must list recommendations and create a “roadmap to implementation” focused on encouraging the adoption of telecommuting. The recommendations, the scope said, should include what technology infrastructure, policies and incentives the county will need for a long-term telecommuting plan and what mechanisms and systems are needed to track the costs and benefits.
Prior to and during the study, the consultant must, with TPO staff, form a “Project Working Group” comprised of “stakeholders and participants.” The consultant must then work with the group to get feedback and review materials, hold monthly project team meetings, submit monthly invoices and progress reports and present study results to county transportation planning officials.
Ms. Bouclé told members of the TPO Governing Board July 23 that part of the study’s cost will be borne by Broward-based South Florida Commuter Services, a state-funded program aimed at reducing congestion by advocating for carpooling, telecommuting, transit use, micro-mobility and flexible work schedules (also called flextime).
The Florida Department of Transportation “agreed to partner [with the county] and … fund, in part, the survey to allow us to have a more extended survey response,” she said.
Florida International University will also work on the survey, said Rebeca Sosa, who sponsored the study order with fellow county Commissioner Dennis Moss.
“Outreach with Miami-Dade County Public Schools is encouraged but not mandatory, and the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce has also expressed an interest in this topic and agreed to partner with the TPO telecommuting survey questionnaire,” Ms. Bouclé said.
The new study will begin more than 4½ years after commissioners called for a study of a county flextime policy for government employees through a resolution by Daniella Levine Cava, Jean Monestime and Barbara Jordan.
A second directive by Mr. Moss and Mr. Monestime on Sept. 9, 2018, instructed the mayor’s office to study the feasibility of creating and staffing county employees at telecommuting centers across the county.
Mr. Moss last week asked that the TPO and its consultant consider such centers in the new study.
“Covid-19 just … provided us with a scenario where we’re forced to utilize these alternate means of commuting, and as a result of that we’re now more open to that,” he said. “Whereas in the past, [when] I’ve brought up the issue of the tech centers, I think people have been more close-minded.”
In 2009, the county ran a year-long test of telecommuting and flextime schedules with 264 employees across four county departments.
That pilot, as well as studies nine years later, found “most employees participating in the program were generally very satisfied with their new schedule.” However, the study determined that, when restricted to county staff alone, the effect on congestion was “negligible considering there are 2.7 million residents and only 1,450 (0.05%) employees [who] may be considered for an alternative worksite.”
The 2018 report did not include what the traffic impact is when children and non-drivers were subtracted from the total county population.
According to a report published last year by FIU’s Miami Urban Future Initiative, Greater Miami has the 12th-worst traffic congestion in the nation, with the average commuter losing about 105 hours of productive time yearly – a $4 billion loss in economic output.
“Hopefully, through our experience during this pandemic,” Mr. Moss said, “we see that telecommuting and all these other kinds of things – alternates – are workable, are doable and will help us with this traffic congestion as we move forward.”