Washington, DC is in an unusual situation, traffic-wise: Its ageing Metrorail system is in such dire need of repair that sections and entire stations are being shut down for weeks while needed work is done.  As a result, hordes of people who normally use the trains for commuting have taken to driving instead, and the resultant daily gridlock is like nothing DC has seen for years.

Many DC residents are aware that the Metro was built inadequately from the beginning, and suffers from constant budgetary battles since its inception, thanks to the purse-strings being handled by the District, two states and the US Congress (and you don’t get more dysfunctional than that).  This emergency repair situation is a direct result of that.

But what concerns me the most is the resultant traffic crash, and the fact that we’ve had the tools for years to minimize traffic significantly by allowing most of DC’s desk jockeys to work from home as needed.  So my question is: What happened to teleworking? Washington and the surrounding counties are among the most well-connected places in the world, with an embarrassing spectrum of TV, radio, cellphone, wireless, cable and internet feeds and very few holes.  With these tools, virtually everyone who rides a desk can do so from the comfort of their living room or den, 24-7-365.

Despite this, most DC desk jockeys either do not telework, or only telework 1-2 days out of the week.  My office, for instance, sets a limit on teleworking of 1 day per week.  During this traffic crisis, I would’ve expected cries to expand teleworking as far as possible to cut down on the gridlock.  But most workers are being told to do that as a last resort; they are still expected to “do what you have to” to get to work and do their jobs.

And gridlock is the result.

The realistic concept of telework has been around for over 2 decades now.  About a decade ago, it became relatively easy for anyone in a major metropolitan area to do so.  But managers and bosses are still concerned about home-based workers “gold-bricking” on their dime, and trying to figure out how to make sure work is being done.

There are some large companies doing extensive telework; many of them have figured out how to make the process work and keep workers accountable.  What I keep expecting to happen is that someone at one of those large companies brings their teleworking manual to Washington (or is asked by someone in Washington to do so), so that manual can be studied by the government and used as a ready-made, tried and tested resource to hand out to all businesses and advise them on its use.

So far, this has not happened.  And it’s a shame, because the problems it would mitigate are so clear and obvious: The list just starts with visible traffic and gridlock; and it extends on to time wasted, energy exhausted, pollution increased, people frustrated, productivity lost and profits squandered.  On a national level.  A working telework system would improve traffic, make workers happy and more productive, make the world cleaner and make companies more profitable.

Not that Washington, DC doesn’t need its Metrorail back to full function—but it’s not the only tool we can use to improve life in the area; and it’s being left in the bottom of the toolbox.  Isn’t it about time we took it out and put it to proper use?