I write this piece while Pakistan Day armed-forces parade is being rehearsed in Islamabad, closing off several of the roads that connect Islamabad and Rawalpindi together. Thousands of people travel daily between the two cities for work/education purposes and for at least three days during the current week, they are being made to suffer through severe traffic jams, as half of the connecting junctions between the two cities are closed in the name of security.
This is one of many such situations that the residents of the twin-cities and other metropolises in the country have to suffer. Not too long ago, a similar situation shut the city for nearly 3 weeks due to the Faizabad sit-in.
I ask myself, how can we make the situation better? Is it necessary for us to approach this problem from top to bottom and demand a change in the mindset of the top brass in the country’s political and security leadership? Or can we find easier alternatives?
Luckily, my technology background leads me to believe that we can resort to less-intense and easy measures to prevent such situations from messing up with our work/education. However, the solution might involve changing our own approach to working/getting educated.
The answer lies in adopting digital tools and making use of them efficiently on days when we suffer these situations in our cities. As a business owner, I can set up digital tools that allow remote working for my employees from the convenience of their homes. They don’t need to travel to the workplace as its mayhem on the roads during the day and they can instead save at least 1.5 hours on average and can add this time to their productive hours while they work from home.
Needless to say, this model has successfully been adopted by a large number of small businesses as a norm and they report more productivity and success as a result.
Similarly, a teacher can ask the students to log-in and attend the classes online through tools like Zoom, GoToMeeting etc. A collaborative environment with a teacher delivering a lecture from the comfort of his/her drawing room, while the students attend from their homes dressed in their PJs: a dream-come-true for the students who travel on a daily basis from far off places in their quest for knowledge.
I know that this is not a permanent solution. I, for one, work better when I am in the office surrounded by the team members, focusing on tasks at hand, instead of being disturbed by the sounds of my little ones (a toddler and a baby) in the background every 2 minutes.
But for days when the traffic is a mess, I’d rather work from home shutting myself in the drawing room with my headphones covering my ears, than being stuck on the road cursing whoever is responsible for it.
I also get that this solution does not apply in case of emergencies and some tasks that can only be performed in-person. We can’t expect the bankers to provide services to the public while sitting at home (although internet banking does that for us). We can’t have doctors treat the patients remotely (although a fascinating idea explored heavily through the use of telemedicine tools etc.). A shopkeeper can’t sell his goods sitting at home (E-Commerce solves that too btw).
But for most of the office-based jobs, I can safely say that the people can be made to work from home instead of having no work at all or mentally and physically exhausted workers coming in late and using that as an excuse to not be productive throughout the day.
Likewise, the students can learn from home and grasp the concepts better instead of arriving late for the classes and finding it difficult to catch up. In many ways, working/learning from home at your own pace solves many problems and makes you much more productive and focused.
Digital tools are part of our life, whether we like it or not. In fact, you are reading this piece through a digital tool. It’s time we start exploring productive use of these tools and allow for them to be helpful on days like these when we are forced to be stuck on the roads for hours, which is becoming increasingly common.