Tuesday, August 16, 2011


This post was published originally at Larvatus Prodeo. It discusses options for changing the way we work that could reduce emissions and share the work more fairly. See:  (http://larvatusprodeo.net/2009/08/24/guest-post-should-we-change-the-way-we-work/)
A recent Climate Progress post reported that “closing Utah state offices on Fridays has resulted in a 13 percent reduction in energy use as well as collectively saving employees between $5 million and $6 million annually in commuting costs.” (A 5×8 hr week was replaced by a 4×10 hr week) In addition, “employee surveys have shown that most state workers like the new schedule — absenteeism and overtime are down and customer complaints have steadily dropped. Even wait times at the Department of Motor Vehicles have decreased…”
The post goes on to mention Californian studies that have indicated potential health and traffic congestion benefits from making similar changes. More details for the Utah case and additional benefits can be found here. Note that the aim in Utah was to save heating etc. costs by actually shutting down the offices for an extra day/week.
So perhaps it is worth asking how changes in technology and the way we work might help the environment, quality of life and job security? By and large we are still using work patterns that were developed when observing the Sabbath was considered important and the telegraph was leading edge technology. Does it really still make sense for most people to work day shift, Monday to Friday and to do their work in workplaces that are more than a few kilometres from home?
Technology changes in the last 10 years have changed what is practical. Not so long ago I needed to work at my personal workplace with filing cabinets, reference books etc to work efficiently. Now all that information that used to be on paper will fit on a memory stick or be accessible via the internet. There is no longer a need to have a dedicated workplace to work efficiently. Modern technology is also allowing many other jobs that had to be done at a particular place to now be done anywhere with reasonable internet connections. For example, my understanding is that Hamersley now controls its crushing plants from Perth instead from control rooms at the crushers. Technology also means that many people should be able to reduce commute emissions by spending more time working at home or closer to home.
We have also reached a point where most people have no particular reason not to take time off during the week instead of weekends. For me the only time when being off at weekends was important was the 40% of my working life when our children were at school.
One possibility worth considering is a wider adoption of 7 day work rosters similar to those used by the mining industry. For example, many of the Thiess sites I worked with used a 4 day on 4 day off roster that averaged 42 hrs/week for 12 hr days. The roster was popular and turnover low. Seven day rosters can involve more than 2 crews, different roster arrangements etc. if required.
From an emissions point of view the big attraction of the above roster is that assets are used more efficiently. For example, it would allow office space requirements to be halved if individuals work more hours per day to maintain the same weekly hours. Halving office space requirements halves the emissions generated when an office is not being used. It would also allow most of the emissions associated with office buildings to be avoided for many years. Construction resources could be diverted to building more important things such as hospitals, clean power generation and the conversion of unused office space to accommodation etc. Widespread use of 7 day rosters would also reduce traffic congestion during peak hours as well as reducing weekend crowding at some recreation facilities.
It is worth discussing what changes to work arrangements may make sense in terms of society, the environment and the economy and the key reasons for this choice. It is also worth discussing what working arrangements we would choose as individuals if we had the choice.

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