Saturday, June 14, 2008

Oil oil I need less

Oil, petrol, gasoline, fuel, you name it. Its on the mouth of everyone these days. As the price of oil soars into the US$135 range, the world is getting to be a much more expensive place to live in. Some in the US are even practising a 4-day work-week in order to save on the power needed to drive the office air-cons, lighting, and other electrical appliances. These, together with the saving in gasoline otherwise needed to travel to and from work, can add towards quite a bit of savings. But not all companies and not all countries can afford to do this. For some, it is not in the culture to do it. Work-weeks are still 5 1/2-day affairs. Even for Singapore, the civil service only went 5-day a couple of years ago.

But I think the Americans have a point. Not about working less in a week. It's about 'firing' up the office and burning tar one day less in a week. And this is where telecommuting really comes into its own. Its nothing new. Some businesses already practice it, but it hasn't become as pervasive as, say, the Internet, which has become part and parcel of doing business in the office today - at least in countries or cities that has the requisite infrastructure to support it. But it is usually such cities that burn up the most fuel in the offices and on the roads. Why not have a 4 in-office days and 1 out-office day? You still work on the out-office day, but you do it from home.

A lot can be done at home nowadays that is otherwise done in the office today. E-mailing, hold meetings using teleconferencing tools, collaborate on a document or a plan the budget using the collaboration features built into Lotus Notes, or MS Office, Zoho Office, or even Google Docs and Spreadsheets. What's that? There are some things that you need to do face to face? Yeah, so do it during the 4 in-office days, or if not possible, meet at the cafe so that the whole office or building doesn't have to be lighted just for 5 people. Today, even education and training can be done the e-way. E-learning is an established pedagogy, one which will be increasingly used because of its sheer efficiency and convenience.

Some would argue against these, stating that it merely shifts the cost of doing business from the employer to the employee. The employee has to pay for the electricity that powers the home computer, the broadband connection to the Internet, and even the extra expenses incurred using the home toilet more often. But I would counter this with pointing to the savings in travelling time, travelling expenses, being stuck in the jam and risking accidents on the roads. Its not all that bad a deal, actually. What's more, it will bring greater work-life balance back to one's life, and possibly increase the birthrate (don't ask me what the connection is). So there is a lot to be said for a 4+1 work-week.

Image source: Author: Clara Natoli

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