As I stood on the freezing cold platform at Watford Junction waiting for my (delayed again) train to arrived it struck me. I can service clients in Australia and Singapore from a desk in a room in Watford, yet a client based in London expects me to travel for 2 and a half hours a day in cramped conditions to sit at a desk so I can Skype and email the people around me.
What is it that drives a UK based business to demand employees spend five days a week traveling? Why do we, the workforce, accept a situation where we’re spending the equivalent of a working day each week on trains and buses and spending a significant portion of our income for the pleasure?
There are other factors at work too. When transport is delayed (through strikes or weather or just general incompetence) our late arrival at the office is seen as being our fault. It adds to the stress that we’ve already endured in trying to get to work on time with other unhappy commuters. The press talks about “working hours lost” and “cost to the economy” when the real cost is to our health, stress levels and general well being as people.
When I work from my home I’m far more productive. Without the interruptions of meetings and updates on so-and-so’s latest building project, I can do in 4 hours what it takes me a 9 hour working day to achieve in an office. Nor am I alone. Whenever I’ve done time and motion studies I’ve found so much time being spent on meetings, preparing for meetings and other off-the-cuff activities that add little value and divert attention.
I accept there are some things that need humans to gather together and interact. I wouldn’t dream of carrying out a design workshop over Skype or leaving on a webcam so I can observe someone’s working patterns. There are show-and-tells that take place where being able to gauge the reaction of the client there and then is essential.
But these are exceptions. The vast majority of work involves quiet contemplation, analysis and documentation. I am not alone in this either judging from my time and motion studies.
So let’s stop pretending being in the office is work. Let’s allow people the flexibility to endure the commute when they’re actually needed. It’ll take pressure of our transport infrastructure, reduce costs for businesses, allow people more time for their friends and family and I’m sure will make us more productive and appreciative when we do come together as employees.
I'm a freelance researcher, designer and writer. My clients have included Fintech startups, publishers and digital agencies. You can read more about my work here.