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Telework: The Miracle Cure

Walter Russell Mead

The New York Times gets at least this much: telework is, among other things, a feminist issue. Making work schedules more flexible and allowing workers to do their jobs when and where it works for them will remove many of the obstacles that keep women from participating fully in the economy:

The main reason for the gender gaps at work — why women are paid less, why they’re less likely to reach the top levels of companies, and why they’re more likely to stop working after having children — is employers’ expectation that people spend long hours at their desks, research has shown.

It’s especially difficult for women because they have disproportionate responsibility for caregiving.

Flexibility regarding the time and place that work gets done would go a long way toward closing the gaps, economists say. Yet when people ask for it, especially parents, they can be penalized in pay and promotions. Social scientists call it the flexibility stigma, and it’s the reason that even when companies offer such policies, they’re not widely used.

But it is also a green issue: Promoting telework and making work schedules more flexible for the majority of American workers whose jobs, at least in part, can be done anywhere the internet works, will reduce congestion on our highways, save gas and infrastructure costs, and reduce CO2 and other greenhouse emissions.

It’s a disability and senior issue: The more commuting can be limited the longer seniors who want to work can do so (it’s often the physical rigors of the commute that force people into retirement before they really want to quit) and the more easily people with mobility issues can fit into the workforce.

It’s a civil defense issue: The more companies support telework, the less disrupted our economy will be by natural disasters and terror attacks.

It’s a fiscal issue: We will have to spend less on infrastructure if we reduce peak use of roads and mass transit by a mix of telework and staggered working hours.

It’s a quality of life and family issue: If we reduce the number of hours Americans spend sitting in traffic and making long commutes we give people more free time and more time with their families.

And it’s a bipartisan issue: There’s no reason Republicans and Democrats can’t work together to make telework as feasible as possible for businesses and workers.

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