Reducing a fruitless limbo called commutingBY FILIPPO SARTI
A fruitless limbo between personal and work time, it is not surprising that commuting is regarded as one of the least enjoyable things in life1.
Commuting has in fact been identified as one of the main causes of daily stress with lengthy journeys of over 45 minutes associated with poor sleep quality, exhaustion and bad health.
It also reportedly takes its toll on relationships with a higher likelihood of separation among commuters that regularly face a long journey to work. 2
In particular, those travelling by car, train or bus are more at risk of experiencing higher stress levels, exhaustion, poor sleep and an increase in missed work days according to a recent study by BMC Public Health.
The trials and tribulations of commuting can also impact business negatively and reports value the lost-productivity cost of commuting to businesses through delays and transport problems at £1.2 billion in the UK alone. As the UK is not one of the world’s worst offenders, it is likely that the cost to productivity in cities like Mexico City, where IBM records the highest levels of ‘commuter pain’, are eye-wateringly high.
To discover how workers would employ their time if they were able to cut down on their commute, and to identify the potential benefits to workers and businesses that a shorter journey into work could bring, Regus commissioned a survey canvassing the opinions of over 16,000 professionals across more than 80 countries.
The survey also asked workers how frequently they were undertaking their commute in order to measure the level of penetration of flexible working practices.
The research discovered that although average length of commutes globally has not changed significantly in the 18 month period, currently almost half of workers globally (48%) report that they are free to work from locations other than their company’s main offices for half a week or more, helping them reduce the overall time spent commuting and giving them the flexibility to choose work locations closer to home.
Over the past few years, businesses have increasingly been offering flexible working practices to staff as they find that worker morale and health improve. Research has in fact shown that mental health, blood pressure, and sleep patterns are better among people who can determine their own working hours.3
So, while the health benefits of slashing commutes, either through cutting time spent travelling or reducing the number of times in a week that workers must undertake this trip, have been amply investigated, little has yet be en proven with regards to the productivity and business benefits of introducing more flexible working practices. Confirming previous research revealing that 72% of companies had experienced increased productivity directly as a result of flexible working,4 the latest Regus survey discovered that if workers were able to reduce their commute, more than half (54%) would reinvest their time in more work, effectively gaining additional working hours and therefore boosting overall productivity.
Other activities that workers would gladly swap with commuting are: spending more time exercising and getting fitter (76%), spending more time with their partner and family (75%) and seeing friends (55%).
All these activities are mood or health enhancing as workers reveal that if they could reduce commuting they would probably be fitter, benefitting their overall health, and would also be likely spend more time with their loved ones improving all-important relationships and boosting their emotional and psychological well.
Earlier this year Regus research showed that 41% of workers globally believe that companies have been doing more to reduce the time employees spend commuting compared to two years ago. 5This is an important indication that businesses are becoming ever more aware of the effects that a long journey into work can have on employee health and productivity.
Nevertheless, not all businesses are able to reduce commute time for workers on a daily basis and the research suggests that in some cases, instead of helping cut commute time, businesses are acting on commute frequency and allowing staff to work from alternative locations that are closer to home for half the week or more.
Although the proportion of professionals that enjoy some degree of freedom over work location for half the week or more is substantial, over half of workers globally are still unable to achieve the same degree of freedom. When the employee and business benefits of helping workers reduce their commutes are analysed it becomes evident that there is no time to waste in introducing greater flexibility for the workforce which in turn will be healthier, happier and, very importantly, also more productive.
1 A Survey Method for Characterizing Daily Life Experience: The Day Reconstruction Method, Daniel Kahneman, Alan B. Krueger, David A. Schkade, Norbert Schwarz and Arthur A. Stone, 2004
2 The Washington Post, Long distance commute stresses family life, 31st May 2011
4 Regus, Flexibility drives productivity, February 2012
5 Regus, A better balance, May 2012