I just read about County Executive Ken Ulman’s “declaring May ‘Clean Commute Month‘ in Howard County and challenging residents to consider an alternative to driving their cars.” It goes on to say, “Today’s announcement is consistent with one of County Executive Ulman’s top priorities: bold and innovative protection of the environment in Howard County.”
OK, I get that this is a municipal endeavor. I see that it’s PR. I understand that it’s a values-based statement that says, Hey, HoCo is ‘about’ good environmental practices.” I believe that commuting, carpooling and public transportation options are components to be considered and developed. Everything’s cool.
And, how unoriginal.
… And, probably, irrelevant to most people’s lives and life conditions.
Now, here’s a concept: How about putting attention on the cleanest commute of all? Working from home!
If the county wanted to demonstrate leadership in suburban transportation issues, it could assemble a team to identify, develop, aggregate and publish professional technical support materials for local businesses that wish to increase their home-based (partial and/or full-time) workforce. (Perhaps they already have?) The team could consult and work with companies through the implementation period to make this happen on the ground, in companies of all sizes, across many industries and professions.
The benefits of offering such flexible work conditions are many and multi-layered, and this blog post is not about “the why” and the reason. There’s tons of info and easily accessible logic to answer that question.
The issue is Are we going to lead? Or are we going to mimic?
If we want to lead, then let’s do it.
- Assemble the team. Do lots of thinking first. This is not a commission. This is not a task force. This is a PAID team of thinkers: a combination of generalists and specialists. Some county staff, but mostly private business folk.
- Gather the existing resources for what works for home-based workers. In what professions does it work best? In what industries? Who are the local employers who can benefit most?
- Create technical support: materials, resources, training. Identify software, best practices, consultants who can work more intensely with companies as needed.
- Provide basic info back to the public for free, and then provide actual technical support and consulting for a fee … with a sliding scale determined by annual business income and volume of employees, for example.
- Track what works. Observe. Get feedback. Be willing to be wrong. To be nimble. To create anew. Analyze it. Think. Publish more data.
- Then create a product and sell it to other counties and regions. And provide technical support to other counties in how they can increase their home-based workforces. (This could be a county endeavor or a spin-off private business.)
Make Howard County a leader in providing *professional technical support* to other counties. We’re friggin’ loaded with smart, educated folk here. Let’s lead! We’re at the center of one of the most sought-after, intellectually dense (in a good way 😉 ) regions, so that’s our value, folks. We are the center. Let us send ripples of intelligence and thinking and problem-solving into our local county neighbors and beyond. That’s how we transition from being insular (bedroom community, boring) to being integrated and vibrant. Our intellectual capacity is our vibrancy. Our willingness to be at the forefront of social change is our identity. Let’s be that again!
And here’s another point: having extraordinarily strong, well-vetted, tested and efficient systems for allowing people to work from home is very good practice and super-smart for emergency preparedness.
The Horizon Foundation hosted a flu pandemic summit of sorts. See, one of the more probable emergency scenarios we face as a county is an avian flu outbreak, where people have to stay at home in a lock-down type situation. Think, for a moment, about what happens to commerce, services, safety and Normal Life in a situation like that!?
Really, folks, it’s good thinking to have as many people as possible already prepared to work from home, for companies to have up-to-date systems for communicating with their staff, to have plans in place for how people can be functional from home. It’s good for today — for families, for personal health, for integrated lifestyles, for receiving new generations and new life views into the workplace. As much as possible, we want continued functionality (safety, services, commerce, etc.) of our county and region, if we were to ever face a serious emergency. (Heck, such systems are even good for snow days!)
I’m not proposing a task force, or a list of recommendations. I’m proposing an actual, functioning, service-providing entity and system for vastly — and rapidly — increasing the number of Howard County businesses and institutions set up to allow many people to work from home. And, here’s what I’m willing to do: If this approach (and result) is considered a value to our county, and if there’s a budget for it, I’ll get it launched.