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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Modest proposal #11 - Take the day off
May 1, 2008 - 2:56pm

Let's say you live some distance from campus, not near any other employees who work a schedule similar to yours. What's an alternative to carpooling or public transit when those aren't practical? Not going to work at all, that's what!

If you're faculty or a student, you can stop reading now. This isn't for you. Your on-campus schedule is determined (in large part) by the registrar, who's trying to maximize use of classroom resources (itself a laudable goal and a way to reduce emissions) rather than minimize the number of trips to campus you have to make each week. And, within those parameters, you're probably already doing (or trying to do) what I'm planning to propose for staffers.

Here at Greenback, most administrative offices (including those in academic departments) are open about 8.5 hours per day. The campus does business more like 12-14 hours per day, but for a good chunk of that time, customers (oops, I mean "students") have to make do with only "critical" support functions like the campus police, the library, maybe one snack bar. At the margins, administrative offices could change their schedules and, while some students would be inconvenienced, other students would benefit. Not a huge change in customer service levels, either way.

Where there could be a big change, though, is in commuting miles, and the associated greenhouse gas emissions.

Let's assume you're working the typical full-time staff schedule of five eight-hour days each week. (If the days aren't exactly eight hours long, it doesn't really matter. Let's just work with that number, because it makes the math easy.) Every two weeks, you're working 80 hours, and making 10 round trips from home to campus.

Now, if you could extend your day by a single hour, you could work those 80 hours (in fact, 81) in only nine days. Good for you -- you get every second Monday, or Friday, or whatever, as an additional day off. Also, you save money on gasoline not bought. Good for the environment, because you just cut your commuting emissions by 10%. Good for the university, because they're getting an additional hour of work from you every two weeks. No significant impact on students or faculty, especially if arrangements are made for basic coverage when you're not in. (If you and I each stand to get 24 (+/-) additional days off a year, trust me, we'll find a way to cover for each other to make that possible.)

Heck, if you're in one of those jobs (like mine) where a good chunk of what you do is more or less independent of when you do it, you might even go to four 10-hour days every week, and take every Friday (or some other day of the week) off. That would cut your commuting emissions, and expenses, by 20%!

Many administrative schedules on campus are what they are, simply because they got that way. Standard working hours were established in businesses, because that way the executives could know that the middle managers knew that the supervisors could keep track of who was working a full day and who was shirking. On most campuses, these days, middle managers are long gone, and supervisors are disappearing fast. In many offices, (s)he who does the work reports directly to an executive or faculty member. Job performance is measured by what does (or doesn't) get done, not by how many (or which) hours get worked. If there's no need to stick to a traditional 5x8 schedule, there can be benefits in making a change.

I'm going to float that proposal at Greenback during the coming fiscal year. Like the parking change, I don't expect it to succeed right away, but just getting the discussion started could have benefits. If even a few departments make scheduling more flexible, that's a win. And once it's shown to work, ...


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