I took my car in for an oil change and my mechanic practically shouted, “Aha!”
“I knew you were working from home — you should have been due for an oil change months ago.”
Like a lot of work-from-homers, my car’s mileage has gone up to a couple of weeks per gallon. Instead of commuting two hours a day — or three, if the traffic or weather is particularly bad — I’m driving to the market and feed store once every two weeks or so.
There are a few other around-town errands, but for the most part, my car and I are staying home.
That means I’m not burning all that gasoline, and that means my March oil change happened at the end of May.
And it means traffic, crashes and air pollution are down, too.
A study published in the journal “Nature” found that emissions, mainly from vehicles, dropped around 17 percent worldwide during the lockdown, compared with the same time period in 2019. In the United States, state-by-state drops range from 2 percent to 40 percent.
Of course, it would be better if it didn’t take a global pandemic to make improvements. The study notes that “the changes in emissions are entirely due to a forced reduction in energy demand,” which “was neither intentional nor welcome.” Still, the authors say, it shows how working from home and reducing fuel consumption can impact air quality.
We’re in the midst of a phased reopening plan now, and some remote workers are beginning to return to their offices. Other offices are holding off for a few weeks, and some have found the three-month work-from-home experiment so successful they plant to keep it in place through the summer, maybe through the fall — maybe permanently.
I’m all for that. We have the technology. In my office, we’re all doing our jobs — via online meeting platforms, emails, phone and text. We’re all working long hours and available on off-hours. The work gets done, and we’re not driving miles and miles to do it.
Even where I live, with no cell service or high-speed internet, I can do my job. My colleagues had to get used to my voice delay in Zoom meetings and remember to call me on my landline. Improving rural internet infrastructure would help a lot, but rural folks who live in these unwired gaps have been complaining about that for years.
We’re saving on fuel, we’re saving on car repairs, and — maybe most importantly — we’re saving time. When work is over, you’re home.
I’m a morning person, so for me the biggest gift is having extra hours in the morning, time I used to spend getting dressed, making lunch, meeting up with my carpool pal, driving and sitting in traffic.
I still get up shortly after dawn, but now after I walk the dog and feed the goats and chickens, I can work in the garden or on cheese-making for an hour or two. When I sit down to my computer at 8, I’m ready to roll, instead of being frazzled and tense, recounting highway crash stories with my office mates.
There are lots of jobs that can’t be done remotely, from health care and construction to service and entertainment. But for lots of people, being together in a shared office suite isn’t necessary to the work. And the remote office trial has gone on long enough for companies see whether it works for them.
And if it’s working, why not keep it? It turns out people can do their jobs from their kitchen tables, porches and patios. And if it gives them time to put in a garden or practice piano or read a book or take a walk, that’s a bonus.
Greenpoint appears every other Sunday. Look for it next on June 21. Reach Margaret Hartley at [email protected] or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are hers and not necessarily the newspaper’s.