A USA Today article reports new U.S. Census data showing that “about 8% of workers in the USA have commutes of an hour or longer, and nearly 600,000 full-time workers endure megacommutes of at least an hour-and-a-half and 50 miles.” The article mentions “it took no longer to get to work in 2011 than it did in 2000.”
Why aren’t commutes getting shorter? Is it because people like Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer don’t believe in telecommuting? Part of the promise of the information age is that business could be done from anyplace. Broadband access, smart phones, and a buffet table full of technologies enable that. You think she’d practice what she’s selling.
I don’t think it’s a matter of not being able to telecommute. In fact, let’s assume for argument’s sake that Mayer is right. Some industries thrive better on face-to-face collaboration. My industry, marketing communications (public relations advertising, etc.) seems to benefit from the team being together.
The problem isn’t being required to be in the office – it’s getting to the office. Long commutes are made worse by “location, location, location” and the thought that a prestigious address is the doorway to success. A meeting room with a skyline view is no more productive than a suburban office park – it just costs more. Too many people in my industry think it still dazzles clients, but it’s a drain on precious capital, and does little employees that have a “life outside of work.”
Would you run an employment ad offering a 90-minute commute as a perk? Maybe some folks in the San Francisco’s East Bay area or people commuting to Manhattan from Bucks County, PA would find it an improvement, but for most of us, it just means adding three hours to the already bloated work day.
The downtown office might attract a few bright, single twenty-somethings, but with experienced and slightly older professionals living further out in the suburbs (for affordable housing and better schools for their kids), does a downtown location really make sense?
It certainly isn’t family friendly. In a stronger economy, companies may have difficulties attracting qualified employees, as more people shun long commutes.
Isn’t work/life balance a way to attract and retain the best, brightest, and most experienced talent? How does a 60-90 minute commute (each way) help workers achieve balance? The family breadwinner is becoming a stranger in his/her own home. Entirely too many kids are being tucked in by a Smartphone — it’s bedtime via FaceTime.
Some argue that taking mass transit beats driving your own car, but they’ve probably never done it for a sustained period of time. Let’s use Boston as an example. When the unemployment rate is lower than what we have now, suburban commuter lots are often full by 7 AM. Leave your house at 6:30, drive to the lot by 6:45, pay to park, and catch the 6:50 train into North or South Station. Arrive in town at 7:50 AM, but unless the office is in the same building as the station, your commute isn’t over yet. Now comes the 10-minute walk (perhaps in pouring rain or on a Polar Vortex day) or a transfer to a subway. You arrive in the office at 8 AM, 90 minutes after leaving home.
Getting home, not only is the process reversed, but if the last meeting or phone call of the day runs even five minutes late, that can mean waiting at least another hour for the next train. Forget about returning quickly in the middle of the afternoon if a child gets sick at daycare – there may be a two-hour gap between trains.
After working a 10+-hour day, spending another two or three hours a day commuting is not a positive contribution to balancing work and family life. Does that trendy bar next to the office matter when you want to get home and have dinner with the family?
A reverse commute to the suburbs from the city can be done in a fraction of the time in most cases, so even urban dwellers can get to the office and back home easily, and perhaps still have time to “play” downtown after work.
Employees living outside the box are being asked to think outside the box – shouldn’t they be allowed to work outside the box too? A downtown location is merely a centralized inconvenience for everyone. Are your clients paying for results or the view from your conference room? Think it over on your ride home tonight.