How to Sustain Work from Home? Employers’ and Employees’ Perspectives

PI: Anne Vernez Moudon (UW),

Co-PI: Jeff Ban (UW), Qing Shen (UW)

AMOUNT & MATCH: $10,000 from PacTrans; $10,000 Match

PERFORMANCE PERIOD: 6/1/2020 – 5/31/2021

STATUS: Completed

CATEGORIES: Commute Trips, COVID-19





DESCRIPTION: The rapid spread of COVID-19 in the US and around the world has prompted government agencies to take dramatic measures, including closures of schools and non- essential businesses, online learning, telecommuting or work from home (WFH), and orders to “stay at home.” Such unusual measures have profound effects on the everyday life and the overall transportation system. As reported by Inrix1, since March 04 when WFH was adopted by many public and private-sector employers in the Seattle area, travel times during rush hours have been reduced by 30%-50%. The benefit of WFH is obvious during this vital time of combating the virus: not only did the congestion (and related energy consumption and emissions) decrease significantly region wide, but also the precious capacity of the transportation system (roadways, tunnels, bridges, etc.) can be better utilized by “critical infrastructure workers (CIW)” (doctors/nurses, first responders, utility workers, food/grocery workers, etc.)2 who do need to go to work every day to run the lifeline of our society.

The current massive implementation of WFH also provides a rare, valuable opportunity to learn how to better implement WFH and related travel demand management (TDM)/commute trip reduction (CTR) strategies in normal situations. It is expected that once the COVID-19 pandemic is over, governments will discontinue the WFH-type of orders. Then the fundamental question is: how can we sustain, even partially, the level and scale of WFH in normal situations? Continuing WFH in normal conditions is an important TDM/CTR strategy: in addition to the congestion/energy/emission benefits, WFH also help alleviate transportation equity issues since most CIW are not high-paid workers, most of whom also cannot work from home or do not have much flexibility in their work schedule. Reduced or more reliable commute times will certainly help them better manage their daily schedule, have more rest, or simply have more time to spend with their families.

A crucial step to answer the above question is to understand how businesses (employers) and their employees view WFH: what aspects of WFH they like or do not like, what challenges they have to overcome to practice WFH for a relatively long period of time (weeks or even a few months), and how likely they will continue WFH after COVID-19 is over. In this project, we want to conduct surveys on selected employees and employers (managers) of various businesses to learn about their implementation of WFH, the pros/cons of WFH they have experienced, and what they consider as essential in order to sustain WFH in normal conditions. Because such survey data is perishable, we have already developed and deployed a survey addressed at a population of employed persons—it is called COVID-19 mobility survey. We propose to analyze the survey results as part of the PacTrans grant. To compare with the results of the employee survey, we will also design and develop a survey of employers, asking them about the type of business they run; their title/role in management; WFH policies they oversee; things they like; challenges they have to overcome; likelihood to continue WFH in normal conditions: why and why not, and if not, how governments may help them to continue WFH.