A few weeks ago on a rainy Friday, I was taking the Skytrain home from my job in Downtown Vancouver. Every person on the train looked unhappy - soaking wet and packed in like sardines. Traffic was gridlocked (I could not see the faces of the drivers, but I am pretty sure they were miserable too).
Why does Western society do this? Why must we partake in a stressful commute to and from work, and be forced to sit in a desk and be productive for 8+ straight hours a day, 5 days a week?
Not to mention the pollution pumped into the atmosphere from commuters stuck in traffic. And, many offices are not in walkable urban environments where employees can take a break by stepping outside to walk and get some fresh air. They are stuck in an office park where the only escape is their car.
Could city life be better if we just worked from home even 1 day a week?
The benefits of teleworking are well-documented. Last year, the Globe and Mail published an article about the Telework Research Network’s review of about 2,000 studies from the past decade concluding that employees who work outside of the office can have higher productivity because of:
- Fewer interruptions Working independently reduces distractions of working in a busy office and cuts time spent in idle chatter and lunch breaks
- Better time management E-mail and text messages are more immediate and less apt to digress into non-work topics.
- Greater flexibility Mobility allows employees to work when they are most productive.
- More time for work Studies show mobile workers apply an average of 60 per cent of the time that they save by not having to commute to doing productive work.
- Reduced down time Employees don’t have to lose a full day’s productivity when they’re sick, recovering from surgery, caring for a loved one or attending to personal business.
- Greater efficiency Employees who are trained to work remotely are more adept at using technology to communicate and collaborate more efficiently.
The studies also suggest mobile employees may be happier because of:
- Better balance A worldwide study by Brigham Young University showed that telecommuters were able to work 57 hours a week before they felt their job interfered with their personal life. Traditional workers felt conflicted at just 37 hours.
- Increased confidence Empowerment, trust and accountability are fundamental to remote work and are keys to job satisfaction.
- They avoid stress Commuting and office politics can often be emotionally draining.
- They save time and money The Telework Research Network calculates that a typical two-day-a-week telecommuter in Canada can save an average of $2,000 (Canadian) a year in vehicle and work-related costs and gain the equivalent of nine work days a year in time they’d have otherwise spent commuting.
These examples do not factor in the benefits to the city, such as:
- Less air pollution, which improves human health.
- Less traffic congestion and fewer automobile crashes/deaths, due to fewer people on the road.
- Less wear and tear on transportation infrastructure, which postpones funding requirements.
- Less dependence on oil, which means more money to spend on other consumer goods and services provided by retailers.
- Less vehicle-related runoff from roads, ensuring cleaner water and improving ecosystem and human health.
There are clearly advantages to working face to face with one’s coworkers, which is why it would be unwise to switch completely over to teleworking - perhaps just 1-2 days a week to reduce pressure on the environment, transportation infrastructure, and human health and well-being.
Several major companies, including Canadian communications company Telus Corp, have encouraged teleworking. It started in 2010 when the organizers of the Vancouver Olympics asked Telus to minimize the number of workers entering the downtown core, as part of a plan to ease traffic. The company agreed, and employee feedback was so positive that the company eventually made many of the Olympics-related changes permanent.
“For Telus, it resulted in significant cost savings, and allowed us to reduce our real estate footprint,” says company spokesman Shawn Hall, who himself works from home several days a week. “It’s also a great recruitment tool. By offering people the opportunity to work from where and when works for them, that’s an important benefit.”
Telus is now working toward a goal of having 70 per cent of its work force teleworking by 2015.
I don’t see teleworking being wholly embraced in the immediate future. But, as the Baby Boomers retire and more Millennials move into the workforce, it is entirely possible that this trend will continue and grow in acceptance, which is not a bad thing for city life.
If you don’t think long commutes are bad for your health, check out this infographic: The Killer Commute