Recently Richard Branson created a stir by saying that it was ‘a mistake’ that most employers were not encouraging telecommuting, working at home and flexible working hours.

At the same time, I was interviewed by two journalists in Perth about the potential, and pitfalls, of car-pooling.

The Gatton Institute's book City Limits says the distance between where people live and where they work is growing fast and the daily commute is getting longer, putting pressure on social and family life and driving up living costs. According to the media, many of us are spending more than 15 hours a week, every week, sitting in our cars literally stuck in traffic congestion, whilst the average family now spends more time sitting in the car than they do around the dining table.

Why aren’t we telecommuting, working at home, working flexible hours and car-pooling?

Matthew Dunstan, author of The Coworking Revolution: Four Secrets to Successfully Working for Yourself, said we have a programmed work style based around people being at their corporate office desk Monday to Friday, 8 am to 5 pm. We have a culture of presenteeism and micromanagement (“you're not working unless I see you) and there is a lack of government policies to support flexible working hours and working one day a week in a co-worker space or work hub.

Matthew Trigg of Uber Technologies told me the challenge is the stigma and uncertainty associated with alternative modes of transportation.

So I’m asking: “Is our transport defined by our fears?”

I think it is.

Fear is a powerful influence on behaviour that rarely takes us where we want to go. Many media articles seem designed more to alarm than inform and consequently what we pay attention to determines how fearful we are.

  • Some employers believe employees will ‘slack off’ if they work at home
  • Many people think it’s risky to carpool to work with a colleague
  • Some parents tell me they think kids walking to a school bus is simply an open invitation to kidnapping and abduction
  • Sections of our society think emerging technologies like Uber are unsafe and dangerous.

If we really want to cut traffic congestion, increase public transport patronage and change the way we work, we need to alleviate the fear and change the way we think. We can all help eliminate transport fears right now.

  1. Focus on the facts: Many major workplaces or business parks that encourage employees to carpool one day a week or once a fortnight have opted for private databases so that their employees only share with co-workers. This has eliminated the risk of crime and the obstacle of sharing a car with a complete stranger. The average car is parked for 95 per cent of its lifetime; the truth is that our cars cost us money when they are moving and even more when they are lying idle. Everyone wants to save money and car-pooling provides an opportunity for City Leaders, councils, workplaces and individuals to save money through better utilisation of existing assets and infrastructure.
  2. Demonstrate the value: Few people are prepared to question our society’s entrenched habits, but transport planners and public servants have the opportunity to show businesses the value in staggering start and finish times for employees. We can all do our bit by not believing that if our colleagues are not seen, they are not working. If we are all willing to change our transport and working behaviours just once a week, or even once a month, we can all be part of cutting traffic congestion. Imagine how much less traffic there would be on our roads if we all worked at home just one day a month.
  3. Share positive stories: Our transport decisions are closely tied to our family responsibilities, job, working hours, where we live, age, gender, income, hobbies, environmental awareness, knowledge of alternative transport choices and physical abilities. Transport information and messages need to be positive and need to make an emotional connection with people. They should generate interest and curiosity, and lead people to go and find out more. Messages that have a story are a powerful tool for sharing experiences, showing people how to behave and teaching lessons rather than simply creating panic and fear.

Collectively, our attitudes, perceptions and behaviours shape the way we live. If we really want a new future for transport planning - for our towns and cities to be traffic congestion free, for our household budgets to be a little bit more secure and for practical common sense ideas to be a reality - then let’s not let our transport be defined by our fears. Like Richard Branson says, it would be a mistake not to encourage telecommuting, working at home and flexible working hours.

  • Here's a little bet for you: Within 20 years we will solve a whole heap of environmental problems and require architects, urban planners, developers etc. etc. to totally re-think what a city is all about because the bosses will FINALLY (rents, competition for staff and skills and general social progress will force it on them) overcome that "…culture of presenteeism and micromanagement…" (and, Rachel, I do LOVE that "presenteeism" word) and accept that employees should be all about their productivity and finding some new ways to assess that, not about how many hours they spend in a chair in an office.

    Take out the office space and you have one helluve impact on cities, roads, transports systems et al and information/social technology will certainly do that soon. Alternatively, offices will become a whole lot more than somewhere to work because employees will need/demand all sorts of entertainment/recreation/opportunities for social interaction while at work just to get them there. Either way, cities will change massively!

    Good article Rachel! Spot on Richard!

    • Hi Sam. Thank you for reading and commenting. I'm with you. Cities will change so much so quickly. So much digital disruption and I'm excited to see what disruption innovators (good disruption) like Uber do. Like you say Richard is spot on! Thanks and Have a great day, Rachel

  • Hi Rachel, I agree that the reluctance for management styles to change is key to the delay in take up of more flexible work set ups. Few companies are good at this due to the collective thinking from decades old logic that stifles adapting and utilising the wider practical options available today, such as tele-commuting. Those who can see how this can work are still in the minority and unable to effect a paradigm shift for an enterprise.

    My ideal is for organisations to break into regional hubs wherever practical. Employees can work from home and attend hubs at certain times when required to get staff together. Managers need to be retrained, or may need to be changed, to understand that productivity is better measured by targets and output, rather than just an arbitrary measure of joint attendance under watch. I think the most practical solution is a mix of practices and inter-connection measures. As Sam mentions, it is likely to eventually happen by force, though it would be smarter to begin working towards this change in controlled phases.

    • Thank you for your comment Bruce. I agree a bit of 'mixing it up'. Some time at home, some in the office some at Hubs. I spent a day when I was writing my book at a co-work cafe. Int he morning I spoke to speak and got so many ideas and inspirations and in the afternoon I wrote 3,000 words in about 3 hours. It was highly productive…. Be very interesting to see how things change. It's exciting. Thank you for reading and commenting. Have a great day, Rachel

    • Bruce, your comment that "…productivity is better measured by targets and output, rather than just an arbitrary measure of joint attendance under watch…." is spot on. Twenty years ago on a "model" office construction project I had to react to the "absolute truth" that you could not measure productivity of main contractor staff on a major project where they really only provided "attendance" on the numerous trade and sub-contractors involved. Developed a plan WITH THE WORKFORCE and made more money/finished four months early because the men and women on the tools AND their supervisors suddenly understood what drove their own productivity. That change has to start with the bosses and be directed at what really constitutes productivity and it will be embraced by the rank-and-file. ….a little "lolly" that is a share of the improvements won't hurt either!

  • Though it can be a common sense thing to do, working from home does have some stigma attached to it.

    Though I have worked from home for years, I persistently get asked down at the local supermarket whether I 'have found a job yet?'. One lady collecting for a charity tried to refuse a donation I gave 'because I know you are on the pension (meaning unemployment benefits)'.

    That said, by working from home I get two hours more work done per day compared with what I would otherwise and save immensely on fuel costs.

    To be sure, telecommuting does have drawbacks (teamwork is best fostered face to face, whilst face to face meetings are often easier than the video-conferencing variety.

    But that does not take away from the fact that flexible working arrangements can be extremely beneficial.

    • Hi Roger. Thank you for reading and commenting. Your personal experience is valuable insight. When I lived in the UK I used to work 1 day a week at home (to save travel costs). I got loads done. Its nice to be surrounded by people and have a chat. I get huge amounts of inspiration from co-working cafes… tho often a bit chatty! I like the idea of 'mixing things up' and doing a bit of everything. Thanks, Rachel

  • More diffuse stay-at-home work arrangement could really be a panacea for the chief urban planning dilemmas of traffic congestion and high density housing.

    • Agree! Also a money saving options for Governments that save everyone time and money. Thank you for reading and commenting Harold. Have a great day, Rachel

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