What got me started investigating telecommuting in the 1970s was snarled traffic. As LA’s population grew so did the traffic jams. We all looked forward to the opening of a new freeway between home and work. It was only later, sometimes as soon as a few months, that we learned, or relearned, Parkinson’s Law of freeways: Traffic grows to clog the roads available. Over a period of three decades it always seemed to take half an hour to forty minutes to get to the office 16 miles (26 km) away, regardless of the number of “improvements” in the freeways. Now, of course, a forty-minute commute is on a good day. That is, it would be if I were still commuting. The snarls keep increasing.
But there’s another snarl problem. It’s the snarls of pain and rage of the increasingly irritated commuters. In today’s Los Angeles Times there’s an article titled: “Tired, headachy and cranky? Blame the commute“. Appropriately placed in the Health section of the paper, the article is a litany of the adverse health impacts of commuting. The aches and pains are commute time and/or distance related, with the spine and lower back the chief commute victims. All a result of those long, lumpy drives in a fixed seating position. Blood pressures rise, as do tempers.
Our informal surveys of commuters involved in our telecommuting programs produced the conclusion that the decompression time in the office after arrival from the commute was about the same length as the commute itself. Then there’s the recompression time toward the end of the work day, getting ready for the commute back home. Both periods involve reduced productivity.
The Times article quotes the results of research done by the University of California Irvine Institute of Transportation Studies: “‘The longer the commute, the more illness’ and more illness-related work absences occur”.
So, because of its adverse effects on the commuters, commuting reduces productivity and increases health costs. Then there are the costs to the commuters’ personal lives. So far, no one has discovered how to add more hours to the day. Thus the time spent commuting must be subtracted from the time spent doing something else. Like playing with the kids. Exercising. Cooking gourmet dinners. Relaxing. Let’s see, if you commute 220 days annually and your round trip commute is 90 minutes, then you’re spending 330 hours annually just commuting. If you’d like to sleep 8 hours nightly, leaving 16 hours for work and other activities during your waking days, then that 90 minute round trip commute is costing you almost 21 waking days, a work month, every year. It’s enough to make anyone snarl.
Telecommuters don’t have a commute when they telecommute from home. All that former commute time is available for those other things that commuters don’t have time for. That’s why the telecommuters’ stress levels are lower, they have fewer health problems, and they feel more creative and in control of their lives.
Are we snarling yet?