Commuting Or Working From Home Or Working Close To Home Or Hybrid

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Commuting Or Working From Home Or Working Close To Home Or Hybrid

By Sue Ellson

I am in the fortunate position of being able to work from home and work close to home and commuting as needed (but less regularly). It didn’t happen overnight. It did happen before the COVID pandemic, but we all know that there are now many people who would prefer to be working from home or working close to home.

We are all aware of some of the benefits of working from home, but now that more employers are asking for employees to return to the workplace. Some of the concerns of employees are:

  • commute cost and stress as well as climate change concerns and environmental cost
  • commuting time based on ageing infrastructure, worsening road congestion, crowded public transport and urban sprawl
  • the workplace politics (and the challenges of a toxic workplace)
  • the personal preferences of an individual (from personality traits, introvert, extrovert and neurodiversity through to workplace distractions)
  • the team cohesiveness and opportunities for promotion (maintaining relationships and remaining visible)
  • flexibility in relation to hours of work or days of work (especially if managing child or adult caring responsibilities)
  • accessing opportunities that match their skills if they live a long way away from an employer (ie interstate or overseas)
  • desire for flexibility, autonomy, trust (but not being constantly monitored)

From an employers perspective, some of their concerns are:

  • managing productivity and performance remotely (especially with a large workforce)
  • a reduction in management, training, mentoring and collaboration opportunities
  • providing an expensive workplace that is not being used in an optimal way
  • managing workplace safety – including mental health when isolated
  • attracting talent that are willing to work onsite (and sometimes, even finding talent if they have a skills shortage)
  • ability of younger workers to learn from experienced workers on the job

Here in Australia, there are proposed legislative changes to improve workplaces around contacting employees outside of work hours (right to disconnect) and equal pay for equal work etc. We are essentially seeing a range of progressive changes being made for the benefit of employees.

Commuting Effects

The effects of commuting and working from home arrangements on mental health – the Melbourne Institute Working Paper from November 2023 studies the effects of changes in commuting time and working from home arrangements on mental health. It found that commuting time does not affect the mental health of Australian women but it does have small negative effects for Australian men with below-median levels of mental health.

“WFH arrangements have a positive effect on Australian women, with the largest benefits experienced by women below the 30th quantile of the mental health distribution. We also show that these benefits manifest only at higher WFH intensities,
with the largest effects experienced by women who work mainly from home whilst retaining a fractional office/on-site presence. For men, we do not find any positive effects of WFH arrangements.”

However, this analysis is pre 2019 – and it could potentially be different now that more people have had the opportunity to work from home.

Working Close To Home

I have been a long term advocate of ‘working close to home’ and have written about that here

I suspect there are several reasons why people have not considered this option in the past:

  • they only applied for advertised jobs in their area of expertise and travelled to their current role from day one
  • they did not look for local employers who could utilise their skills (possibly assuming available roles would only be in the city)
  • they did not have sufficient job search or networking skills or seek the advice of a career specialist to source a role closer to home
  • they ended up in a role through happenstance or circumstance and never considered working closer to home
  • they did not factor in commuting time into their work and life balance and became accustomed to a longer commute but now that their circumstances have changed, they may be re-evaluating their options
  • they liked their current role from both a task and people perspective and decided to stay put
  • they could only access the type of role they have by going to a specific location (or may have missed out on a promotion or opportunity by not being mobile or flexible on their workplace location)

When people are starting out in their career, if they are sharing accommodation or renting, there is a possibility that they can move closer to a suitable workplace. However, as they become established and purchase a property, have children and become connected to local schools and community activities, it can be more difficult to relocate and work close to home (especially as the price of property may be too high in certain areas and the low rental vacancy rate in Australia is also having an impact on residential mobility). Certain residential areas may be some distance from suitable employment. Sadly, some people are not safe working from home (i.e. domestic violence).

Productivity Comparison Between Remote And Hybrid Work

A Forbes article quoting Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research revealed that ‘, it turns out that ‘the productivity of remote work really depends on how it’s done. Going all-remote shows around 10% to 20% lower productivity than working fully in person. This is likely because of the challenges in providing effective mentorship, building a strong team culture and staying motivated.’

‘The hybrid work model, however, seems to bring about modest improvements in productivity. Hybrid employees gain back roughly two or three hours each week due to reduced commuting—with a portion of this time being allocated to more work hours. They also tend to be more productive during their remote work days owing to fewer interruptions and quieter home-based working environments.’

Global CEOs Expect Employees In The Workplace

According to the KPMG 2023 Global CEO Outlook report of 1,300 CEOs released in September 2023, 64% of CEOs are expecting a full return to the workplace within three years. Eighty seven percent of these CEOs are more likely to reward onsite employees with favorable assignments, raises or promotions.

National CBD Property Vacancy Rate

The PwC Future of Work Outlook Report for 2023 quoted JLL research on the national CBD vacancy rate of 14.1 per cent and discussed how high quality properties that provide opportunities for people to co-locate, connect, socialise
and collaborate are in high demand.

How Many Days Per Week From The Office?

The Balancing Act: The New Equation 2022 report shows that only 4 per cent of people wanted to work five days a week from the formal office, while 27 per cent wanted to be working fully remote and the remaining 69 per cent splitting their working week across multiple places and spaces.

National Bureau of Economic Research found the average Aussie wants to work from home two days per week. At the same time, the average employer wanted staff to do no more than one day from home.

Time Savings When Working from Home from the National Bureau of Economic Research in January 2023 showed that the commute time savings associated with work from home, drawing on data for 27 countries. The average daily time savings when working from home is 72 minutes in our sample. We estimate that work from home saved about two hours per week per worker in 2021 and 2022, and that it will save about one hour per week per worker after the pandemic ends. Workers allocate 40 percent of their time savings to their jobs and about 11 percent to caregiving activities. People living with children allocate more of their time savings to caregiving.

Working from Home Around the World
Daily Time Savings When Working from Home for Australia 78 Minutes
Percentage of Time Savings Devoted to
Primary or Secondary Job 43%
Leisure 33%
Caregiving 9%

Productivity Gains Not Going To Workers

Kath Blackham in her recent presentation on the Future of Work for the Australian Human Resources Institute on 23 November 2023 stated that ‘the time and productivity gains of the past are not going back to workers, the gains have gone to the profits of business.’

Dr Sean Gallagher, Director of the Centre for the New Workforce at Swinburne University in his recent presentation on the Future of Work for the Australian Human Resources Institute on 23 November 2023 believes that employees should become high frequency users of generative artificial intelligence and that this would improve productivity, work quality, fewer repetitive tasks, more time for new tasks or more complex work and more time for critical tasks. However, there would need to be a workplace policy around using artificial intelligence, training and access to AI and an overall operational normalisation of using AI in the workplace.

OECD Average Annual Hours Worked

Average annual hours worked is defined as the total number of hours actually worked per year divided by the average number of people in employment per year. In Australia, it is 1,707 per worker in 2022, in Germany, 1,341 and Mexico, 2,226. Back in 2018, the numbers were 1,733 for Australia, 1381 for Germany and 2,238 in Mexico – in other words, there is a trend towards less hours worked per employee.

Research On Mandated Days In The Office

40 per cent of employers are enforcing days in the office because they believe it is better to have meetings face to face; 37 per cent said employee productivity is improved at the office, and 34 per cent find it hard to maintain corporate culture.

Employees were required in the office four days a week by 28 per cent of businesses, 26 per cent said three days a week, 12 per cent require two days a week and 2 per cent require employees to attend only a single day.

Just 19 per cent of businesses surveyed required employees in the office for all five days.

Employers are facing some staff resignations as 31% report having already lost at least one employee and 40% expect staff to leave due to in-office requirements.

Unpaid Work and Go Home On Time Day November 22

The Australia Institute surveyed 1,640 people between 29 August and 6 September 2023. Of those, 61% were in paid work.

  • Employees reported doing an average of 5.4 hours of unpaid work a week overall
  • Full-time employees perform an average of 6.2 hours, and casuals or part-timers four hours
  • Workers aged 18 to 29 do the most unpaid overtime (7.4 hours) a week
  • This ‘time theft’ equates to 281 hours a year or seven standard 38-hour weeks spent working for free
  • Australian employees are losing a cumulative $131 billion to unpaid work a year
  • Nearly half (46%) are not satisfied with the amount of paid work they’re doing and either want more or fewer hours:
  • A third of all workers want more paid hours (35%), but this rises to 54% for under-30s
  • Half of casuals (49%) of two in five part-timers (40%) would like more paid hours
  • Another 11% of all workers would like fewer paid hours

“This survey shows just how uneven the labour market is. We’ve got many workers, especially casuals in insecure jobs, wanting more hours. At the same time, employers are more likely to demand long hours, including large amounts of unpaid overtime, from full-time workers,” Dr Fiona Macdonald, Policy Director, Industrial and Social at the Centre for Future Work said.

General Conclusions

Commuting to work has a high cost in time, money and stress and is contributing to climate change
Hybrid options are better than exclusively Working From Home in most cases and for most reasons
There is still a high percentage of time that is not spent commuting that is provided back to the employer in extra work
Most employees expect some level of flexibility nowadays
Coordinated days in the office work best
Full time workers are still providing a significant amount of unpaid overtime

General Articles

The office returns: are the days of Australians working from home numbered?

‘Not happening’: The future of hybrid work revealed as Aussie bosses push for in-office

My commute is so bad, I want to quit my job. Am I overreacting?

More employers demand days in the office, but working from home is ‘here to stay’

State Of Remote Work 2023 (includes an excellent range of statistics)

Getting back to the office comes at a cost, but who will pay?

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