Working from home could become the post-pandemic norm in a part of California. Officials from the San Francisco Bay Area passed a plan that will require employees at large companies to work remotely for three days a week in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The decision, adopted by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, was approved 11-1 as part of a larger effort to determine what the area should look like in 30 years. It would likely have been an unthinkable decision before the pandemic sent thousands of workers home. But both companies and employees now seem to have warmed up to the idea of remote working.
“There is an opportunity to do things that could not have been done in the past,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, a member of the transportation commission who supports the proposal, said in a statement.
She described feeling “very strongly” about a telecommuting mandate being a part of the region’s future.
Some of the largest companies in the US are headquartered in the Bay Area, such as Apple, Facebook, Google, Intel, Netflix, Chevron, Levi Strauss, and Wells Fargo. While some such as Facebook have embraced remote work as a long-term strategy, many others like Apple have built campuses to have employees on-site in non-pandemic times.
The new move surprised residents, many of whom first learned of the idea from social media and then flooded an online meeting of the transportation agency to try, unsuccessfully, to talk commissioners out of the idea. Steven Buss, a Google engineer, told the commission that he didn’t want to continue with this as a lifestyle and that working from home is “terrible.”
Many of those that participated in the meeting said that the situation exacerbates inequality as only some types of work can be done from home. Others highlighted the consequences this could have on lunch spots, transit agencies, and other businesses and organizations that rely on revenue from office workers. If emissions are the problem, the commission should focus on cars, many said.
The new rule would only apply to “large, office-based employers” and require them to have at least 60% of their employees telecommute on any given workday. They could meet the requirement through flexible schedules, compressed workweeks, or other alternatives. It’s part of a broader project planning for 2050 that has been discussed for months.
Nick Josefowitz, a member of the commission who expressed concern about the new rule, tried to amend the mandate to allow for walking to work or taking transit, but opponents said any delay to the plan could cause the commission to miss a key funding deadline or fall short of targets for reducing emissions. There’s no other way to reduce emissions as fast, the commission concluded.
Therese McMillan, the commission’s executive director, said there would be time to polish the details and account for green types of commutes like walking. The plan will come back before the commission again sometime later this year, and then there would be an implementation period — which may overlap with the pandemic.
California announced last week it plans to ban gasoline-powered vehicles, phasing them out by 2035 in a move to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Although sales of new vehicles will be banned, the government will still allow vehicles to be owned and sold on the used-car market.