Gary Horton | Let’s Remember Lessons Learned from COVID-19

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By now, most of us have fallen into our COVID-grooves. We’ve got routines, we’ve got tasks, some have down-time goals, and if we’re lucky, we’ve got work. One thing we all have in common are the observations, insights and lessons learned as all of our hustle-bustle American society instantly downshifted three gears to a slow roll.

Some things we’ve learned have surprisingly pleased us – while others have incensed us.

We really like the clean air. When it’s not raining, all around us have been clean, clear blue skies. Our mountains are visible and gorgeous. Lush green hillsides are our vista for miles. And all it took was taking half the cars off the road for a week or two. Instantly, clean air! So, with enough will and cleverness, could we perhaps make a permanent dent in our smog? Yes, because we like our new, cleaner air.

We’ve also learned many folks can be enormously productive working from their home office or couch. Technology has progressed to the point where team video chats are ubiquitous and easy. Documents are paperless and can be shared in an instant. Technology ties us together while making things move really fast. And far less time is lost gossiping by the water cooler or playing fantasy sports with the guy in the cube next over. We’ve learned that, often, working from home is the smartest, fastest way.

And we learned we really like our freeways open and free-flowing. Driving has instantly become a SoCal pleasure rather than an L.A. curse. Zoom, zoom, and we’re home in half the time and sometimes less – than ever before. We’ve learned we really, really didn’t actually like sitting in traffic — and we’d be absolutely nuts to want to go back to it. 

What a waste of human life… sitting in a gridlocked car.

And, while it’s perhaps been trying at moments for some, we’ve learned that slow, deliberate personal and family time is rich and rewarding. Slow walks. Play catch with the kids. Puzzles, books, games. Talking. Just sharing and talking. So this is what living could actually be…

Surely, we can tie the above lessons learned into a new direction for California. What a shame if we went back from this “new normal” to the old, smoggy, sit-in-traffic, never-see-our-kids, “old normal.” 

There’s a solution right before our eyes.

California can launch an initiative with incentives to stagger office work between home and physical offices. Incentivize firms to set up work days blended between home and office. We’d pull hundreds of thousands of cars off the roads and give life more variety and freedom at the same time. The technology now exists. We’d be dumb not to exploit it.

And for types of work that can’t be done at home? Incentivize and stagger four 10-hour-day work weeks. Make commutes just four times a week, instead of five. Workers get three-day weekends, and everyone gets fast freeways. Some start Mondays, some starting Tuesday – or just mix them up. The point is, get the work done while pulling cars off the roads, saving dead time behind the wheel while easing air pollution and accidents.

California can again lead the nation toward technologically advanced, sane thinking and planning. This is a quadruple win! 

Fewer cars means faster commutes. Fewer cars means cleaner air and fewer accidents. Cleaner air means better health. Work at home and four-day workweeks means more family time and, importantly, more parenting time. For businesses, these brave changes boost both productivity and morale.

We’re facing building a new reality when we get out of COVID lockdown. This is an opportunity for rapid, progressive change. It would be a bummer, after all this, to return to our gridlocked, smoggy commutes and call that dystopia “good” and “normal.” It’s anything but. California commutes had gotten inhumane and tortuous and unhealthy for us socially, mentally and physically.

So, let’s learn from our new lessons learned! Cleaner air, higher productivity and more time for living. As a bonus, we’ll save on costly new road construction, leaving more funds for properly maintaining the infrastructure we’ve got. Win, win, win.

We’ve also learned we deeply value our personal freedom and, while we’ve sacrificed it for a good cause, we deeply disdain being told what to do and what we can and can’t do with our own time. Ironically, we’ve had more personal time than ever, yet we’re severely constricted on how to use it. So, maybe when we’re finally freed, we don’t want to be re-caged in four-wheeled prisons of our own making?

Post COVID-19 is time to change our work patterns to create more freedom for everyone without costing a thing – making California more productive, cleaner and healthier than ever before.

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.

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