Why you should ditch your commute and embrace agile working in 2020

Whether you’re stuck in a train carriage crammed with hundreds of other sweaty workers, snailing along a motorway in dense traffic, or winding your way through endless housing estates on a bus, there’s no denying it: commuting isn’t fun.

Woman in a coffee shop, working on her laptop

And yet the average UK worker spends over five days a year (125 hours) doing just that.

Rising house prices and steep living costs in cities are forcing workers to move further out into the suburbs and beyond, making the journey into work even longer. Not only is this time unpaid and often unproductive, it's also time that could otherwise be spent at home, with family, exercising, socialising, or enjoying hobbies. It's no wonder so many Brits resent their daily commute.

According to Vitality Health research involving Cambridge University, Mercer and RAND Europe, the longer your commute, the more likely you are to suffer from depression and work-related stress.

The study found that people who had to travel more than 60 minutes to work were 33% more likely to report depression than their counterparts with shorter commutes. They were also 37% more likely to have financial concerns, 12% more likely to suffer work-related stress, 46% more likely to get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep a night, and 21% more likely to be obese.

This is bad news for employers too. If staff are starting the day already exhausted and demotivated by long, tedious commutes then how will their productivity and morale be affected? Over time - through lost productivity and leave taken for stress and ill health, long-distance commuting is bound to have a negative impact on the bottom line of many businesses.

The question employers need to ask is: is there anything we can do to reduce or even eradicate our employees' daily commutes?

How many of us absolutely need to be seated at our designated workstation at the same time every single workday in order to do our jobs effectively? Office workers who have access to emails and work files online can technically work from anywhere that has an Internet connection.

How different would the roads and transport systems look if every employer embraced agile working initiatives such as home working, remote working and flexitime? How different would our employees feel if they didn't have to start every day packed into a train carriage, or stuck in traffic? How much money would they save and what impact could that have on their personal lives?

According to the Vitality Health survey, employees who were allowed to work flexible hours were less likely to be stressed or depressed, and were also less likely to smoke, be obese or get insufficient sleep. It was found that these employees were also more productive, enjoying an additional five productive days each year compared to those with no flexible working arrangements.

Agile working, which can include arrangements such as flexible hours, home working and remote working (in cafes and conference centres for example), is an increasingly attractive prospect for many employers. With the right technology in place - from secure cloud systems to appropriate ergonomic equipment, it is possible for staff to work productively in a variety of environments.

The beauty of agile working is that it can be different for every individual and it can be different every day. All it requires is communication and understanding from managers. Perhaps one team member has children they need to drop to school by a certain time every morning. It might help them if they could start and finish an hour later. Perhaps another team member shares a car with a partner and needs to alternate working from home and working from the office throughout the week. Another solution is to allow staff to carry out appropriate work tasks during the train commute to make better use of the time. This could include checking and responding to emails on a phone or tablet, basic processing tasks on a laptop, or reading through documents.

With the right tools, such as laptop stands, tablet holders, ergonomic carry bags and mice and keyboards, it is possible to work comfortably and safely on the go.

Old-fashioned corporate life is dying. It is unsustainable and unsuitable for the modern environment. With populations expanding and space tightening we are going to need to spread further out and this is going to require flexibility from employers if they wish to attract and retain diverse talent.

Find out more about how to keep agile workers safe, healthy and productive by visiting our dedicated agile working page.