24 May 2013

Incentivise commuting on public transport

Expedition 35 inside Soyuz TMA-07, preparing for undocking from the ISS.
(l-r) Thomas Marshburn, Roman Romanenko, Chris Hadfield.
NASA Wikimedia Commons
Despite usable wireless Internet in suburban to urban regions of Australia being common place now for more than 5 years, and portable computers enabling people to effectively work with that wireless for longer than that, flexible work hours from ranging locations are still not common place.

Recognise wireless productivity
But when I commute I jump on a bus, connect to a train, and walk to the office. In that hour long journey (more if I try to do it at peak hour), I've caught up on readings, agenda items for coming meetings, checked the minutes of past meetings, replied to emails, sent emails, and maybe even further developed that funding application. In other words, on public transport and with wireless Internet I'm productive.

Relieve transport congestion
But people still cram the roads, buses, trams, railways and airways at peak hour, trying to get to work by 9am. They leave their homes sometimes 2 and 3 hours earlier, or elect to drive if it reduces that commute time by a few minutes. Then they leave work at 5pm, or later if they're avoiding the peak hour, arriving home long after the kids are in bed and barely spending any time with their significant other or enjoying the life they work to sustain. Couldn't their working days include the commute time, if wireless Internet is a productive tool? Wouldn't this improve their life considerably and reduce peak hour transport congestion?

Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living

Make affordable housing viable
Housing within an acceptable distance from central business districts is unaffordable, and shows little sign of easing. This is forcing suburban sprawl, and further straining transport systems. Wouldn't people working while commuting make affordable housing a viable option if their quality of life is not adversely affected?

Implement flexible and ranging location work
So why not let me get on that morning bus at 9am, connect to wireless and start work? Likewise, why not let me leave work at 3 or 4pm, and continue the online work on my commute home. I'll have a happier family life, a less congested commute, and can now reach affordable housing without severely damaging my quality of life. Wasn't flexible work and ranging location a pearly promise for professionals increasingly working online?

Monitor and measure effectiveness
If my supervisor is nervous about my wavering discipline, agree to report productivity data each month. How many emails were opened, read, responded to and sent between the hours of 9 and 11am, and 3-5pm. What does the edit history on documents say in those hours? What notes were generated on readings in those hours? Etc. Or simply make the job task-oriented. Each month, meet and review tasks. If projects are progressing as normal, then we're ok. Reward people who can be more productive with their time.

Manage equality
But not everyone has a job that can be like this. Many admin, service and front of counter staff are simply required in at specific times. They will no doubt come to begrudge the further flexibility and improved work and living conditions of those who now have that flexibility. But these people can still have flexible work hours. They could start earlier or leave later, so long as they are where they need to be at the time's they're needed. Many clientele may in fact appreciate opening hours starting earlier or ending later. Why on Earth Australian retailers haven't realised the benefit of late night opening hours all week is a mystery to me!With the professional staff physically arriving late and leaving earlier, so it goes that the admin staff may be afforded some of that flexibility as their workload intensity shifts. And there would be other opportunities to manage equality and improve moral across the board, I'm sure.

Expedition 35 Commander Kevin Chris Hadfield and Flight Engineers Tom Marshburn and Roman Romanenko landed their Soyuz TMA-07M spacecraft in southern Kazakhstan at 10:31 p.m. EDT Monday. Russian recovery teams were on hand to help the crew exit the Soyuz vehicle and adjust to gravity after 146 days in space.
NASA TV Wikimedia Commons.

1 comment:

Ruth Jelley said...

Leigh, I couldn't agree more. I've worked for managers who claimed not to be clock-watchers, but who would then call a meeting to berate the team for regularly being 5 minutes late each morning (and without regard to the fact we were often there til 6 pm, engaging in unpaid overtime most nights of the week). Not only did this add to the stress of getting to work on time, but also encouraged a culture of using mobile phones while stuck in traffic to inform colleagues that you were stuck in traffic. Of course, if I'd been taking PT to that job, I could have safely called to say I'd be late, but that I'd already caught up on emails and would be fully prepared for the meeting I was about to walk into.
The danger in accepting this flexible workstyle is the expectation that staff will be constantly connected to work. If you have a work-supplied mobile phone and mobile computing device, is it unreasonable for others to expect you to answer phone calls and emails during what you have stipulated as your own time? Many an article has been written in the media about the creep of work into non-work life. Then there are companies and managers that expect that, because they pay you a full-time wage (which, mind you, only buys them 35-40 hours of your week), they own you and all you do outside of work. I have found this to be a problem for some who are confronted by my ballet teaching work (and there's a good reason I no longer work for corporates who think they own me when I walk out of the office).

However, I believe that this work flexibility can be implemented well in work places - it just needs firm boundaries and agreements. As you say, productivity data will help prove just how productive you are on external internet connections while on your way to and from work. We need to set clear personal boundaries on where work begins and ends, and when your colleagues and managers can reasonably expect you to answer emails and phone calls if you're working away from the office. These things shouldn't be hard to negotiate with rational adults, but unfortunately sometimes it is. Also, where do we draw the line on listening to podcasts and vodcasts related to our work - should this count towards the time we're 'clocked on'? Or should this eat into our precious personal time?

Personally, I believe it all comes down to managing expectations. The big question is often how to manage the expectations of a manager who believes that you're only working if you're sitting at your desk. It is becoming increasingly more acceptable to work at a different desk (sometimes where there isn't even a desk!), but there are still some dinosaurs in the workplace that don't see the benefits of flexible work locations.

To incentivise public transport as a viable work commuting option at various hours of the day, employers need to work together with governments and government agencies to demand better public transport services. Employers need to recognise the value in having staff commute by PT rather than personalised motor vehicles and campaign for better services that get their workers to the workplace efficiently (and without being so overcrowded that you can't whip out your mobile device and check your emails). Unfortunately checking emails isn't something you can do while cycling to work, in which case workers need to have the option to leave work before it gets too dark and finish their emails, etc, at home before putting work away for the day.

I, for one, am grateful to be working in an environment that allows me to do all of the things outlined above.