If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you know the top news story today is that employees of the Bay Area Rapid Transit, known as BART, have gone on strike, leaving commuters with no rapid transit options. BART is the country’s fifth busiest transit system and carries 400,000 riders on an average weekday.

The result is a commuting nightmare for people who ordinarily ride BART – they are now left trying to find a ride to work on crowded buses, ferries and freeways.

Public officials are “encouraging commuters to work remotely where possible.”

I have blogged previously about working in the office vs. working remotely. Clearly there are many advantages to working at the office, but likewise, workers also benefit from working from home – particularly when rail and transit strikes or mechanical failures make normal commuting either very difficult or impossible. One of the perks of working at Cisco (we know from company surveys that employees believe our “work anywhere” model is one of our best benefits) is having the collaboration technology that enables employees to work wherever they are – be it from the office, from home or on the go.

And working from home is more than just checking email – our collaboration technology includes WebEx Conferencing, WebEx Social, Jabber, TelePresence and Virtual Events (generally speaking, these are large company meetings). All of these technologies enable us to connect and communicate easily and effectively. Moreover, we believe the addition of video is very important to making that connection more personal (surveys show that video creates trust between people and work groups). We provide all types of pervasive video such as immersive TelePresence and high definition video within WebEx and TelePresence.

Importantly, all or most of our technology is available using mobile devices (tablets and smartphones) so if you do need to move around, you can continue working on the go.

When our employees work outside of the office they are still very productive – in fact, much of that productivity comes from commute avoidance! I’ve blogged about these points before, but they are worth repeating:

  • Incremental productivity is gained by aligning employee work preferences. An average of 79 hours per employee is saved each year in commute avoidance, with 5.5 million hours a year across Cisco.
  • Incremental productivity is achieved by using collaboration technology to avoid travel time while at work (that is, moving between buildings on Cisco’s campuses). This results in 4.5 million hours a year, and 65 hours a year per employee.
  • Mobile and remote workers also have higher performance ratings – higher than traditional workers.

I am deeply sympathetic to workers who must brave the commute mess during the BART strike, but I also believe it is an opportunity to raise awareness among companies that don’t yet offer collaboration technology to their workers. To those organizations, my message is this:  embrace change and adopt a new work style. Not only will your employees thank you for it, they will also become more productive. We at Cisco believe our technology enables workers to connect, communicate, collaborate and learn, regardless of where they are.

Happy collaborating!