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Commuting: Limbo between personal and work time

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Commuting has in fact been identified as one of the main causes of daily stress with lengthy journeys of over 45 minutes associated with poor sleep quality, exhaustion and bad health. It also reportedly takes its toll on relationships, with a higher likelihood of separation among commuters that regularly face a long journey to work. If that’s not enough, commuters are also more at risk of experiencing higher stress levels, exhaustion, poor sleep and an increase in missed work days according to a recent study by BMC Public Health.

The trials and tribulations of commuting can impact business negatively. Reports value the cost of lost productivity through commuting to businesses through delays and transport problems at £1.2bn in the UK alone.

To discover how workers would employ their time if they were able to cut down on their commute, and to identify the potential benefits to workers and businesses that a shorter journey into work could bring, Regus commissioned a survey canvassing the opinions of professionals working in medium-sized enterprises (defined in the research as having 50-249 employees) across the UK.

The research discovered that, although average length of commutes has not changed significantly in the last 18 months, currently almost two fifths of workers in medium-sized enterprises (38 per cent) report that they are free to work from locations other than their company’s main offices for half a week or more, helping them reduce the overall time spent commuting and giving them the flexibility to choose work locations closer to home.

Over the past few years, businesses have increasingly been offering flexible working practices to staff as they find that worker morale and health improve. Research has shown that mental health, blood pressure, and sleep patterns are better among people who can determine their own working hours.

So, while the health benefits of slashing commutes, either through cutting time spent travelling or reducing the number of times in a week that workers must undertake the trip, have been amply investigated, little has yet been proven with regards to the productivity and business benefits of introducing more flexible working practices.

Confirming previous research revealing that 72 per cent of companies had experienced increased productivity directly as a result of flexible working, the latest Regus survey discovered that if workers were able to reduce their commute, almost half (49 per cent) would reinvest their time in more work, effectively gaining additional working hours and therefore boosting overall productivity.

Other activities that workers would gladly swap with commuting are: spending more time exercising (63 per cent), spending more time with their partner and family (71 per cent) and seeing friends (44 per cent). All these activities are mood or health enhancing as workers reveal that if they could reduce commuting they would probably be fitter, benefitting their overall health, and would also be likely to spend more time with their loved ones, improving all-important relationships and boosting their emotional and psychological well-being.

Earlier this year our research showed that 31 per cent of workers in medium-sized enterprises believe that companies have been doing more to reduce the time employees spend commuting compared to two years ago. This is an important indication that businesses are becoming ever more aware of the effects that a long journey into work can have on employee health and productivity. 

Nevertheless, not all businesses are able to reduce commute time for workers on a daily basis. The research suggests that in some cases, instead of helping cut commute time, businesses are acting on commute frequency and allowing staff to work from alternative locations that are closer to home for half the week or more.

One example of a company who have experienced the benefits of a more flexible approach to work is Yell, the UK based business directory service. The company has seen an estimated productivity increase of ten to 15 per cent and has saved in the region of £1.5m per annum since closing 18 under-used sales offices and transferring 700 of its sales consultants to Regus centres, significantly reducing employee commuting time.

Although many firms are reaping the benefits of a more flexible approach, almost a half of workers (49 per cent) are still not granted this degree of freedom. When the employee and business benefits of helping workers reduce their commutes are analysed, it becomes evident that there is no time to waste in introducing greater flexibility for the workforce which in turn will be healthier, happier and, very importantly, also more productive.

Steve Purdy is the MD of Regus UK, accountable for full profit and loss responsibility, overseeing and managing the growth and development.

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