Work at home: Telecommuting offers alternative to driving to work
By Allison Shirk Collins, CHATTANOOGA Times Free Press
In today's world, a person can wake up to the sound of their alarm on any given week day, roll over to turn it off and then immediately open the email app on their phone to see what might lie ahead of them at work that day.
What if instead of getting out of bed and spending the next hour getting ready to leave home for work, that person just shuffled to the next room and sat down at a desk for the rest of the day? Providing more employees with the option of telecommuting could help alleviate the traffic congestion on major thoroughfares in Chattanooga that local officials say is inevitable in the future.
"There's this mentality that everyone has to be on the road at 7:30 in the morning and everybody has to be on the road at 5:30 in the afternoon, and there's no option around it," explained Bridgett Massengill, President and CEO of Thrive Regional Partnership. "But if you are working from your house then you aren't on the road during those peak congestion times."
Chattanooga is a cut above the rest when it comes to one thing — fiber optic internet. The power of EPB's 10-gigabit network makes Chattanooga a prime location for telecommuters.
"Data connectivity is the underlying spine to the overall general quality of life question," Massengill says. "It influences education and economic opportunities. It should just be an amenity that all of us have."
Massengill said it will be important to establish telecommuting protocols that businesses and industries across the region can look to for best practices. Chattanooga-based insurance company Unum also has a strong work-from-home program.
"I think every company out there has the potential to look a little differently at some of their policies," Massengill said.
BCBS does require minimum internet requirements for their remote workers, and they take on the expense of outfitting home offices with standard office furniture.
Thrive officials acknowledge that telecommuting isn't an option for some more rural areas of the Chattanooga metro area because internet speeds aren't quick enough, so the nonprofit has also explored the idea of co-working centers, specifically library-based co-working centers where commuters could go to utilize resources instead of driving into downtown.
"We have to get some of our companies willing to test it and be a testing platform," Massengill said about alternative work setups. "The more that we can be informed around the challenges, the stronger we can be in addressing them holistically in our companies — both small and large."