By Michael Dziak
Despite the efforts of many to persuade voters to approve a penny regional transportation sales tax, the 10-year, $8 billion proposal is off the table for metro Atlanta, at least for now. But perhaps the “Plan B” for congestion relief that many are asking for should be “Plan T” for “Technology.”
Atlanta has already established itself as a technological center, yet only a small percentage of organizations have maximized the potential of this technology. State and locally driven efforts could and should be aimed at helping business leaders understand, deploy and effectively utilize technology to accelerate economic recovery in a way that will lead to rapid, sustainable growth and prosperity:
- Create an engaged workforce
- Reduce commuter trips
- Ensure business continuity in the event of an emergency or disaster
- Establish a culture of accountability
Technology has radically changed how Americans work. Advanced communication networks and technology-based collaboration tools mean employees are no longer tethered to time or place. The convergence of mobile applications across devices – tablets, smartphones, unified communications and cloud computing – continues to increase productivity in a mobile workforce. In a world where quick response to business issues and customers’ needs is the minimum threshold of effectiveness, well-developed technology strategies can and will make a profound impact on the bottom line of individual organizations, major cities and the state.
One of the most significant changes to an organization – and source of cost savings – is the transition from individually assigned workspaces to activity-based, flexible work environments. Knowledge workers at AT&T, Cisco, Cox, Deloitte, Fidelity, GSA, HP, IBM, Plantronics, Sony and many others now enjoy the flexibility to work from a variety of specialized types of spaces that support their various work activities. The results are lower costs of doing business, increased efficiency, greater productivity and a happier, more productive workforce.
For Georgia, “Plan T” to move the region forward involves using technology in several ways:
Create an engaged workforce: Would it surprise you that 72 percent of U.S. workers are not engaged in their work? A recent Gallup poll defines this as employees “essentially sleepwalking through their day.” Why is it important that workers are engaged? A one-year comparative study of 50 global companies reported a 19 percent increase in operating income and 28 percent growth in earnings per share for companies with highly engaged employees. Companies with low levels of engagement, meanwhile, saw operating income drop by 32 percent and earnings per share decline 11 percent.
Reduce commuter trips: One significant dividend from technology is the huge number of teleworkers. The Clean Air Campaign reports that there are 600,000 teleworkers in metro Atlanta (most part-time but some full-time). If an Ozone Alert e-mailed to these teleworkers kept just one in five working from home as a result, there would be 120,000 fewer vehicles on the roads for just the cost of maintaining the database and sending an e-mail.
Forty-five percent of jobs are compatible with telework and nearly 80 percent of employees say they would like to do so, at least part of the time. More than a third say they would take a lower salary (up to $10,000 less) in exchange for the option to work wherever they are most productive and happiest. Telework – the distributed workplace – can be the key to attracting, retaining and engaging the best and brightest of a 21st century workforce.
Business continuity: Business continuity and disaster recovery plans are critical when incidents occur. A distributed workforce is by its nature flexible and responsive. The day after the Washington, D.C., area’s 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August last year, the General Services Administration closed 33 facilities pending structural assessment, but it was announced that the following day, “…the Federal Government was OPEN with the option for Unscheduled Leave or Unscheduled Telework.” The same happened when storms in the region left hundreds of thousands without power on June 29. In organizations where distributed work has become routine, work can continue during snowstorms, unexpected transportation delays, building evacuations or even a pandemic.
Establish a culture of accountability: Workplace flexibility forces accountability: it’s more important that managers measure what employees accomplish instead of noting where, when or how work is done.
Georgia is poised to demonstrate a new economic growth model. There is an unmistakable technology-driven global trend advancing around the world to upgrade workforces through technology. It’s not just an issue of transportation for metro Atlanta: Accountability, collaboration, improved activity tracking, workforce training and sound program strategies – all of these dynamics are changing the very culture of large and small organizations.
Georgia’s technology infrastructure has positioned us to provide the backbone for an extensive productivity leap. Despite these difficult economic times, with a focused effort to harness this potential, technology is ready to drive increased workforce productivity and contribute to congestion relief while accelerating business development.
Using “Plan T,” Atlanta has an opportunity to replace its reputation as one of the “most congested cities” and become as the “go to” place for business. To get there, leaders, employers and workers must all embrace the distributed workplace – which will impact not only how we work, but also where work. And the clean air and reduced congestion come free.
Michael Dziak, Chief Operating Officer of e-Work.com Inc. and author of, “Telecommuting Success,” wrote this commentary for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. The Foundation is an independent think tank that proposes practical, market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.
© Georgia Public Policy Foundation (September 7, 2012). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and his affiliations are cited.