Remote work advocates are generally a pretty positive bunch. If you listen long enough, they are going to save the planet, restore sanity to our work schedules, and save us all a boatload of money. If you ask people who work from home, even part-time, why they like it, inevitably the first thing they’ll cite is the lack of a morning commute. But is driving to work really so awful?
There is barely enough space here to enumerate all the problems with commuting to the office every day. At the top of that list is the amount of time wasted driving to and from work. Every day, we can find articles like this one, listing the worst commute times. (And having lived in Vancouver, Toronto, Los Angeles and Chicago, people complaining about a 30 or 35 minute commute are whining amateurs. Just saying.) Yes, fighting traffic, or leaving early to beat the rush, or spending a lot of money on car repairs, gas or parking are all enough to make you want to stay home. We get it.
Nobody ever mentions the positive things that come from driving to and from work every day. And if there weren’t some, nobody would voluntarily do it.
When people finally get out of their cars they are at work. Together. In the same place. Crazy, huh?
The notion of a group of people getting together to get work done is not that insane. Certain types of work (mostly physical) will always require a number of people to be in the same place at the same time. This is not a limitation. It also means that when people work together they share ideas, motivate each other, have access to resources and input for problem solving, and can get answers to their questions. The workplace is, for many people, a source of social interaction, and even fun. Oh, and according to surveys, nearly a third of us met our spouse through work, or through workmates.
Commutes create a routine and structure, which actually helps productivity.
One of the big reasons people give for working from home (especially one or two days a week) is they “can get more done.” That’s partly true. Study after study shows that if you aren’t stressed from traffic, or interrupted by people stopping by your desk constantly, you can get things checked off your list at a good rate. And while certain jobs show an increase in task completion, overall productivity is not all that different between people who work in a central location or those who work from home. The reason is surprising. When we have a clearly defined start and stop point to our day, we prioritize our time differently to get our work done in the time allotted for it.
Ending commutes would eliminate entire industries.
Without a big percentage of the population spending their time getting from A to B each day, there are entire segments of the economy which would no longer exist. Think audio books, radio, and even drive-through windows at restaurants. The coffee market would crash, tossing thousands of baristas into the street. Do you want that on your conscience?
At least the first two bullets are actually cause for consideration. Does the work you and your team do require brainstorming, collaboration, and easy access to information? Are there benefits to socializing and building strong work relationships? If so, as fewer people commute to a central point, are you consciously building a positive work culture? How are you doing it?
What are you and your company doing to help people develop the skills to manage their time and be truly productive? Are you just assuming people know how to get the most work done in the least amount of time? Are they remaining over-connected with no clear work routines (which can lead to burnout just like a hellacious commute can)?
Nobody really likes commuting, but we’ve been doing it in some form or another for over a hundred years. There has to be a reason, right?
If you’re a remote worker looking for a boost in productivity, let me suggest our on-demand course, Maximizing Your Productivity as a Remote Employee.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.