Long Commutes Hurt Productivity and Morale. Here is a Better Way…

Businessman at desk in middle of road in desert, portrait

Are your workers struggling with long commutes that cut into the workday, drain productivity, and drive up costs for your business and for them?  There is a better way.

Los Angeles has the worst traffic in the world, based on a study by the transportation analytics firm, INRIX. Last year, the average LA driver wasted 104 hours sitting in gridlock during the busiest commute times and lost $2,408 in squandered fuel and productivity.[i]

Moscow, New York and San Francisco were not far behind, according to the study. Based on a different report from Trulia, New Yorkers average the worst U.S. commute time of 35 minutes each way.[ii]

As a San Francisco Bay Area resident, I have heard numerous stories from commuters who drive 90 minutes each way as they traverse from their jobs in San Francisco or Oakland to lower cost housing communities on the fringes of the Bay Area, such as Morgan Hill or Stockton. I can tell you similar stories from New Yorkers and even residents of Phoenix.

When is enough enough?

There is a better way! Talent management minded executives can do something about long commutes. As a result, they’ll provide more sanity for many of their workers and increase the productivity and morale of their overall workforce, while also reducing office space costs.

The solution is to set up flexible work arrangements for employees who do most of their work on the computer and much of their communication by video, teleconference, text, e-mail and phone calls. The truth is, most knowledge workers need uninterrupted time to do their heads down work in an environment that is free of distractions and interruptions. For these workers, their most productive environment is not the loud, often crowded open office bays that have become common in recent years. Instead, it is often in their own homes.

Too many managers have a mindset that employees must be at work to be productive “where the boss can see you.” This attitude is preventing companies from fully utilizing the power of today’s digital technology to improve productivity by eliminating unnecessary commutes and allowing for an environment free of distractions.  

This attitude is as outdated as a pocket watch!

What enables successful flexible work arrangements? Companies first need to design work environments that provide employees the time, space and technology for how and when they work. Second, they need to set up employee expectations and operating norms for getting work done, such as how often they communicate and how quickly they respond to each other, and when to meet face-to-face or through digital technology.

It is all about aligning company strategies and goals, improving productivity, innovation and engagement, and saving unnecessary commutes and costs.

Nothing too radical about this!

Empirical evidence supports implementing flexible work arrangements. The average benefit for companies is staggering.

Kate Lister and Tom Harnish at Global Workplace Analytics have worked with both public and private employers on teleworking and examined over 4,000 documents, case studies, and research models. Their analysis indicates that when managers focus on managing to results and incorporate flexible work arrangements, it leads to the following benefits:

  • Saves companies $10k to $20k per employee per year by lowering real estate costs, turnover and absenteeism, and increasing employee productivity.[1]
  • Reduces company/employee carbon footprint and fuel usage.
  • Attracts the best and the brightest workers, regardless of where they live.
  • Engages workers who would otherwise not be available (e.g. caregivers, part-timers, the disabled, military spouses, retirees).
  • Improves continuity of operations.
  • Increases staffing efficiencies.
  • Saves employees thousands of dollars per year in commuting costs.[iii]

I have personally implemented a flexible workplace for a large multi-national company. I am not talking about “Friday work from home days,” which is a nice start but short of the true potential of flexible work arrangements. I am speaking of an arrangement that allowed 45% of the workforce to work at home three to four days a week or on the road, as they met with customer and suppliers.

The benefits to the company included a 22% jump in productivity for home based workers, and a 2.3% increase in productivity for all workers. The home based workers dedicated an average of 59 minutes more per day working for the company, and gained an average of 38 more minutes of personal time, due to eliminating their commutes.

A win-win for employer and employees, if there ever was one!

The company also saved over $1 million per year on real estate costs by reducing their office footprint needs, while still providing onsite workers with better video-conferencing rooms and huddle rooms.

For many workers, flexible work arrangements won’t work. They are not for everyone. If workers are tied to technology or equipment to do their work, such as with many manufacturing jobs or R&D labs, they need to be there. If their job involves frequent face-to-face contact or access to documents only kept in the office, they need to be there.

Are you ready to reduce the long commute insanity while improving your employee productivity, morale, and your ability to attract and retain great workers?  Reduce your real estate cost? Be a leader?

Have you tried flexible work arrangements? How did it work out? Is your company ready to try it now? Join the conversation.

Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting and is a Managing Partner of InnovationOne. He consults on innovation, talent management, developing agile leaders and teams, and other strategic initiatives. You can order his free whitepaper on flexible work arrangements, Form Follows Function” from his website. Questions? Please e-mail Victor at victorassad6@gmail.com or visit www.victorhrconsultant.com. For innovation visit www.InnovationOne.io.

[1] Workshifting Benefits: The Bottom Line, May 2010, by Kate Lister and Tom Harnish, Global Workplace Analytics, sponsored by Citrix Online.

[i] Charisse Jones, (Feb. 20, 2017, 12:08 AM ET), “Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco are most congested U.S. cities,” USA Today. Found at http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2017/02/20/los-angeles-new-york-and-san-francisco-most-congested-us-cities/98133702/.

[ii] Tom Huddleston, Jr. (Mar. 3, 2016), “These U.S. Cities Have the Worst Commute Times,” Fortune. Found at http://fortune.com/2016/03/03/us-cities-average-commute-time/.

[iii] Kate Lister and Tom Harnish, (2010) Results-Based Management. The Key to Unlocking Talent, Increasing Productivity. Global Workplace Analytics. PDF downloaded from http://www.globalworkplaceanalytics.com.

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