NEW YORK, Sept 25 — A large number of companies are now encouraging — or even requiring — their staff to return to the office on a regular basis, and this has led to a resurgence of questions about the home-office commute. Employees tend to regard this as actual working time, unlike their superiors. According to a new report, this point of friction is, above all, a matter of perception.

Economists Jose Maria Barrero, Nicholas Bloom and Steven J. Davis have addressed the thorny issue of commuting times in an article recently published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). Indeed, the recent change in corporate attitudes towards remote work is causing discontent among employees accustomed to taking advantage of the flexibility offered by this mode of organisation. They now find themselves having to take their cars or public transport to the office on a more regular basis — and many see it as a waste of time, and a detriment to their productivity.

In the USA, 59 per cent of full-time employees between the ages of 20 and 64 commute to their employer’s premises or to those of a client every day. Many of them spend long minutes — even hours — in a car or public transport to reach their workplace, especially if they live far from city centres. It is estimated that, on average, Americans take 1.3 hours to get to and from work every day, according to the NBER report.

The time of these commutes is often cited as a major cause of fatigue, but also of nonproductivity. This is because working people feel that remote work allows them to save those precious minutes lost on the road, and thus spend more time on their professional missions. In their view, forcing them to return to the office more regularly would make them less efficient.


Differing opinions between employees and managers

But Jose Maria Barrero, Nicholas Bloom and Steven J. Davis believe that it is above all a matter of individual perception. “Consider someone who works eight paid hours a day, lives 30 minutes from the office, and accomplishes the same amount whether working from home or the office. In this example, total time devoted to work is nine hours per day when commuting, and eight hours per day when working from home. So, the worker perceives (correctly) that he or she accomplishes the same amount in 11 per cent less time when working from home – a big productivity boost! From the manager’s vantage point, however, the productivity effect of work from home is nil in this example,” they write in their article.

It takes on additional relevance since the growing scepticism of bosses and managers towards remote work is not just a question of productivity. Many of them feel that this organisational mode contributes to a weakening of relations between colleagues, which can be detrimental to the quality of teamwork. A view shared by some regular remote workers. According to a survey by the Pew Research Centre, some 36 per cent of them feel that working from home prevents them from being mentored by a more experienced colleague. The sharing of knowledge and skills between employees has been a key issue for companies for many years.


So how can managers and employees see eye to eye on the issue of commuting, and more broadly on that of remote work? Quite simply, by adopting a hybrid organisational model, combining face-to-face and remote working. This compromise will enable employees to make occasional savings on commuting time, and thus feel that they are, on the whole, more productive than by going to the office every day. It’s a win-win situation for everyone, and makes the commute to work more bearable. — ETX Studio