United Kingdom

Make the commute part of the working day, academics urge, as thousands still work while en route

October 2018

The commute should be classed as part of the working day as most employees are using travel time to check and respond to work emails, academics have suggested.

According to research from the University of the West of England who spoke to over 5,000 London commuters, the working day has lengthened over the past few years thanks to widespread use of smartphones and Wi-Fi-access on trains and at stations.

Over half of those polled (54 per cent) said they used Wi-Fi while travelling to respond to work emails, while others said they used their own mobile data to work. Commuters were either responding to work emails in the morning to get a head start, or finishing off work on their return home.

One commuter, who told the BBC that travel time was ‘dead time’, said working on the commute meant he didn’t have to work at home in the evenings.

“Whilst this study focuses on one particular aspect of overtime, the increasing hours that UK employees spend working in general is a concern,” said Charles Alberts, Head of Health Management at Aon. “The TUC found that 20% of the workforce is working an average of nearly 8 hours extra per week unpaid – the equivalent of £33.6 billion of free labour in a year.”

The study was carried out to look at the impact of improved Wi-Fi access on two commuter routes: London to Birmingham, and London to Aylesbury. It found that the upgrades were likely to have a significant impact on work-life balance.

Speaking to the BBC, Dr Juliet Jain, one of the researchers who carried out the study, said mobile technology and Wi-Fi access on public transport meant that boundaries between work and home had become blurred. Working during the commute meant people were working longer hours on top of office time.

“There’s a real challenge in deciding what constitutes work,” she said. “Do workplace cultures need to change?”

Counting commute time as part of the working day could, she explained, ‘ease commuter pressure on peak hours,’ as more employers would allow staggered travel times for staff. But it was also likely that employers would need to know how commuters were spending their working time en route.

Camilla Lewis, Health Management Consultant at Aon commented: “From a wellbeing perspective, there is merit in providing employees the choice to factor working hours into their commute, should they feel they will be more productive in the long run and switch off from work as soon as they are off the train. This can contribute to reducing stress and a better work-life balance which is a good outcome for all parties.”

Charles Alberts added: “I can see many barriers to employers formally incorporating commuting time into the working day – it’s impossible to monitor, and there is an argument that productivity levels won’t be the same as in a properly designed workspace. Some people may use the commute as time to decompress or ‘clear their minds’ from the day’s stresses – it would be a negative outcome if they felt under pressure to continue working. In an ideal world we should focus more on work outputs rather than inputs, and empower and trust employees to decide whether or not to work during their commute.”


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