Businesses find alternative routes

Cars pass by a section of California Interstate 580 after it collapsed from the heat of a tanker truck explosion April 29, 2007 in Emeryville, Calif.

KAI RYSSDAL: It's been, by all accounts, a fairly calm traffic day in the San Francisco Bay area. As you've probably heard by now a gasoline tanker truck caught fire in a major highway interchange over the weekend. It melted an overpass near the Bay Bridge in Oakland.

And as managers in the region woke up this morning, many were wondering how they would keep their businesses in business today if their workers couldn't get to work. Marketplace's Steve Henn reports.


STEVE HENN: Jim Barth got up this morning in the East Bay bracing himself for what some predicted would be the worst commute in almost 18 years.
JIM BARTH: Well, patience is a virtue, so you do the best you can and bring a good book.

Many workers here would have loved to stay home and telecommute, but for thousands that wasn't an option.

CHAI FELDBLOOM: I do think a day like today makes employers think.

Chai Feldbloom is the co-director of Workplace Flexibility 2010. She says businesses that encourage telecommuting and invest in flexible workplace technologies frequently do better in emergencies.

Stan Smith at Deloitte & Touche says his firm was forced into creating a flexible workplace after 9/11.

STAN SMITH: Before this, what we would get is, I'd have managers say, "I understand flexibility. You get to leave early and I get to stay and do your work."

Now Deloitte managers have concrete guidelines that help them oversee remote workers and they put less value on face time.

Chai Feldbloom says sometimes it takes a disaster to promote change, but . . .

FELDBLOOM: I hope that our country moves forward on these issues without too many bridge disasters or, God forbid, pandemic flus.

But advocates for more flexible workplaces say most companies are stuck following old traditions that squeeze modern families and leave their businesses poorly prepared for the next disaster.

I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace.


Traffic backs up on westbound Interstate 80 approaching a section of Interstate 580 that collapsed from the heat of a tanker truck explosion April 29, 2007, in Emeryville, Calif. (Justin Sullivan, Getty Images)

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.

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