As offices start to reopen across the country, many folks that have been working from home are wondering if they are going to lose the work-from-home flexibility they’ve been enjoying during the pandemic. A recent USA Today poll says that about 40% of workers want to keep working remotely when business gets back to ’normal’.
For many, the biggest benefit of working from home has been avoiding the commute to MegaCorp on busy highways. The average daily round trip commute in the United States was 54 minutes before the pandemic – nearly 10 hours of driving a week!
My commute over 27 years was much longer than that. I had a daily 1.5 hour commute (by bus or car) for the first 24 years of my working life and 20 minutes round-trip for the last 3 years. Overall, my calculation is that I spent 4.3 years of 40 hour work weeks going to work. That’s equal to 16% of my total career.
To employers, I think employee commutes are often a bit of an afterthought. After all, how far someone chooses to live from work is their business, not MegaCorp’s. Most big companies had adopted some sort of ‘flex time’ concept before the pandemic, but I don’t recall any real effort to understand how far people travel to get to work at any of the three blue-chip MegaCorps I ever worked at.
As a result, I think employers (and politicians) are missing something important if they aren’t appreciating how incredibly significant a commute is in the total scheme of one’s total life. Hopefully the pandemic has opened people’s eyes. To spend literally YEARS of your life behind the wheel is a huge waste of time and productivity.
I have quite a few friends / former colleagues who have now reached the C-suites of many businesses. For the most part, they tell me that they will promote more flexible work arrangements post-pandemic than they did in the past, but still they are adamant that they prefer people working in the office as much as possible.
My hope is that if they do push for people back behind desks, they move to it slowly and really carefully assess what the implications are for the business and the employee. I’m one who might have worked years longer had I not had a job without much work-from-home flexibility. In an ongoing global ‘war for talent’, companies can’t afford to ignore the significance of commute time to employees.
How significant was/(is) your commute in shaping where you worked and how long you worked there?
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12 thoughts on “Stuck In The Slow Lane – Commuting”
I wonder if any of your C-suite friends have provided plausible reasons for demanding that everyone get back to the office? I recently left a MegaCorp that demanded 100% “back to normal” in September, despite a fantastic year from a performance standpoint. I don’t remember any real discussion or dialog with employees on the merits of returning to the office. This caused a huge drop in employee morale, and I know of many high-performers that have since left due to the return-to-office edict. The tstaed reasons are to promote “culture,” but for many employees (including me) this weak / nebulous argument doesn’t justify the real, high costs of commuting to the office – especially after we’ve demonstrated that we can be very effective working from home.
From my standpoint it seems like many MegaCorps see the last year and a half as a fluke, and have therefore just completely underestimated the impact work-from-home has had on people. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out. I truly think that companies that can figure out how to sustain work-from-home will benefit significantly from a talent perspective.
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First, I hear that they are all incredibly impressed with how well they have seen their organizations respond during the emergency. Still, they feel that the quality of work and level of collaboration have slipped. They are especially concerned about adequately on-boarding and mentoring new employees.
On the other hand … my son, who started his job 18 months ago, has only been in the office a handful of times. Their team – relatively small – seem to have figured out how to make it ‘work’.
Sounds like someone at your former Megacorp productivity by how early cars are in the parking lot?
They are going to have a hard time competing for the best workers.
I managed IT at my last company and implemented telecommuting capability 12 years ago. Here are a few observations of the pluses and minuses of telecommuting along with a few tips to streamline the process.
Initially we setup telecommuting to be used as a part of our disaster recovery process, with the design goal that if something happened to the home office, everyone could continue operations from home. For the first year in order to mitigate the impacts of any startup issues we had everyone work from home on “Green Friday” to test the system and understand the gaps that needed to be addressed.
One of the biggest initial issues we had was with VOIP telephony causing packet dropouts. In most instances this was fixed by learning the different internet services providers in order to make quality of service settings to prioritize the Voice traffic. This is an area that I find many large companies don’t get right. Think about the times you have been on a conference call and you hear someone’s voice drop out (this is happening when they are sending email or uploading documents). Our company could fix this issues, while many of our larger company customers IT departments try to dump this on their employees and their employees’ internet service provider.
Another startup issue we had to address was increasing the bandwidth to corporate systems reached over VPN connections. You lose your productivity gains, if people working from home cannot work with robust systems that pop screens quickly.
Disaster Recovery and Green Initiative Considerations:
1) After the first year of “Green Fridays” it was determined that the project was a smashing success, so the company changed its model to mostly working from home. We found that because employees were no longer commuting an hour or hours per day, they actually were giving the company some of their commuter time back by starting work earlier and ending later. Employees were in the habit of getting up early, showering, eating breakfast and getting into their car. Instead of signing getting into their car, they signed into their computer.
2) Many customers before signing on with a new vendor, want to see how the vendor is able to continue operations in the event of a disaster. The work from home strategy was written in the company’s Disaster Recovery Plan and highlighted that the company could no longer be disrupted by a single location burning down or being struck by an earthquake.
3) This capability was proven during two Southern CA wildfires where access to the Corporate Office was blocked by the Fire Fighters. Yet, the company because of the telecommuting strategy was able to continue operations without missing a beat. When COVID-19 hit, it was business-as-usual.
4) Many customers also grade potential vendors on what they are doing to support green initiatives in in the RFQs (Requests for Quotations). My last company was able to address area by highlighting how many car trips we were saving on an annual basis. Less car trips equals less fossil fuel consumption.
1) A company that is considering telecommuting needs to continue making ergometric considerations of their employees. Two of the most common work place injuries are carpal tunnel wrist injuries and neck injuries. Both can be avoided by assuring that the workers have proper positioning of their arms, wrist and head when working. Provide the right equipment. The right equipment is much cheaper than disability claims.
2) You were correct about being able to attract employees from wider geography. My last company changed the focus of their hiring to National and International, where formerly they had been just Regional. Don’t forget about small town America because you can find able and willing employees who can afford a much better life for them and their families if they can live in a less expensive area without big city problems.
3) Work life balance can become a problem for hard workers. Commuting can impose a work hours and creates a clear delineation between work and home. It is harder create these distinctions when you are working from home. Managers need to encourage their workers to have more formal hours to avoid flex hours turning into being on call 24X7.
4) Management needs to find better metrics for measuring how a worker is performing. Too many Managers think about cars in parking lots early as a good measure of workers working. Change the thinking to measuring what a worker actually produces. Making this change if done correctly will allow your productive employees to feel that their work is appreciated and it helps avoid the problem of good employees being overlooked for promotion.
5) Telecommuting isn’t for everyone. I remember one of my coworkers who had four small children at home. He jokingly referred to coming into the relative quiet of the corporate office as going to the “Day Spa”. We had another worker who really missed the comradery of the office and quit. Ironically she came back a year later because apparently the comradery of the new office wasn’t so good.
6) Don’t forget about Office Dogs. Many people miss being around people and their dogs are filling some of the gap. I used to negotiate contracts with one of the largest IT equipment and services companies. One day when I was on the phone with their attorney, I heard a dog bark. This was a chance for me to break the ice and ask her about her dog. She sent me a picture of her Rat Terrier. I replied sending her a picture of the my two Rottweilers sleeping behind me on my couch.
Hope this helps you spread the gospel of telecommuting.
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Your organization was certainly an early adopter of work from home. At the MegaCorps I worked at, it depended on function. Some worked at home (IT, Field Sales), but others – particularly the line functions were always in the office.
With respect to office dogs, I was recently on a Zoom meeting for our local Zoo board. I finished discussing an issue and asked if there were any questions or comments. After a half a beat of silence my own sleeping pupper poked his head up from my lap and exclaimed a throaty, “ARF!” – as if perfectly on cue! 🙂
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Knowing each others’ dog names can become part of corporate culture. I had a male Rottweiler who used to walk up and put his ‘puppy’ paw on my leg.
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Our pupper jumps into my lap!
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I spent 20+ years driving about 40 miles each way to my MegaCorp (~1 hour each way). It was my choice to live so far out in the “countryside” and we’ve never regretted it. I used the last ten of those commuting years to brainstorm how to startup and build our rental property LLC’s. Best commute time I ever spent as we are now five years into early retirement and still living on the income from those 50+ units. Turned out my commute enabled us to retire early!
Tweet of the day—“Use that commute time wisely!”
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That’s a very good point! In the morning, I generally caught up on the news. In the evening, I often took work calls. On the way out of the office, if people were asking me questions, I’d just say – “call me on your way home. I’ll be in my car for the next 45 minutes.” That was usually pretty productive use of my time.
It was definitely my “clear mind” time every morning and afternoon. It can be super productive if you can harness it.
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I am a midlevel exec at a MegaCorp and my team has been mostly remote the last year and a half. We have definitely made it work. However, once COVID restrictions are done, we will be pushing for a minimum of 3 days/week for everyone — their choice of days. The key issues are:
1) New employees learning and coming up the curve.
2) Compartmentalization of projects (even people in same areas don’t know what going on outside their immediate project)….this is the watercooler effect.
I feel like employees have regressed into a focus much more about themselves, and you can see this in the discussion of pronouns….many centered around “I.” Many of my employees have achieved high levels/bands by virtue of the “leadership”……it is hard to measure, but that is what I feel like has suffered.
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I can see those being real issues. Still even 2 days/week working remote is an amazing increase in flexibility as a result of the pandemic. I would have taken that!