Friday, July 22, 2011

Why Don't Feds Have Telework Option on Extremely Hot Days?

Federal government workers in the DC area are allowed to telework when it snows. Why aren't they encouraged to do so on extreme heat days?

I asked Federal News Radio's Amy Morris about the federal government's heat wave telework policy. She looked into it and tweeted that there's no broad policy, only that, "The office manager has discretion depending on office conditions, etc."

If federal government workers were allowed to telework in the most extreme heat (say, on days when the heat index is forecast to be over 105), there would be several real benefits:
  • Air quality. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments is forecasting unhealthy air for the next few days thanks to a combination of heat and ozone pollution. With about 103,000 federal workers telecommuting in 2008, that's potentially a large number of tailpipes off the road.
  • Easing transportation strain. On extreme heat days, cars break down more often and Metro cars without air conditioning become unbearable hot cars
  • More productive workers. If you have to start your day drenched in sweat, you're not going to be at your most productive - you're going to be watching the clock until you can go home and drink a gin & tonic the size of your head. Teleworkers, on the other hand, are scientifically proven to be more productive than their commuting counterparts.
Adapting to DC's oppressive summer heat isn't a new concept - it's why Congress takes an August recess. But at some point our attitude shifted from taking summer siestas to trying to show nature who's boss. Anyone who's gotten a whiff of fellow passengers on Metro lately can tell you how well that's working out.

Of course, our climate is now even hotter than it was in DC's early days, and it's getting worse fast. Globally, June was 1.60 degrees F hotter than the 20th century average. And considering Congress hasn't curbed America's carbon emissions and the world has copied our inaction, we're hurtling towards the most extreme changes.

Letting feds telework on the hottest of hot days won't protect DC from global warming, but it would be an easy step to making it a bit more tolerable.

UPDATE: Federal News Radio posts this memo on the heat from the Office of Personnel Management to agency heads, which advises managers to keep employees hydrated but says nothing about teleworking.
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