The average office employee is only productive for 3 hours a day. Most people are distracted every 3 to 6 minutes. Then it takes us about 23 minutes to return to our original task.

Instead of working we’re ‘busy’ checking Facebook, reacting to emails, sharing gossip, reading news, discussing weekend activities, making hot drinks, popping out for coffee, smoking, texting, eating, paying personal bills, complaining we’re ‘busy’ or searching for a new job. It’s ‘Parkinson’s Law’, that work expands to fill the time we have available.

But the issue is far bigger than wasting time chatting about last night’s TV.

Governments and Councils around the world are spending more and more money every year, so that we can all start work at roughly the same time. I call this the ‘Billion-dollar office start time’.

  • They’re spending trillions building new roads so that most people can drive to and from work at about the same time
  • They’re spending billions widening existing roads because most of us start work at roughly 8am
  • They’re spending millions constructing new Park and Ride car parks so that people can park their car, free-of-charge, and then all catch a bus or train at around 7.30am

Every year Governments and Councils are spending more money and we’re getting worse outcomes:

  • Our roads are jam packed, gridlocked and congested in rush hour, but under-used at certain times.
  • Our buses and trains are at capacity and over-crowded, but only during peak hours
  • Our Park and Ride car parks are stranded assets, deserted and empty for 12 hours every day

So why are we all starting work at roughly the same time?

One of the biggest barriers is most people hate change. Many of us – and our leaders and managers – like the discipline and routine of being in a certain place at a certain time for a certain number of hours.

Or perhaps it’s just another entrenched habit?

Richard Branson created a stir by saying that it was ‘a mistake’ that most employers were not encouraging flexible working hours.

Matthew Dunstan, author of The Coworking Revolution said we have a programmed work style based around being at their desk Monday to Friday, 8 am to 5 pm, with a culture of presenteeism and micromanagement – “You’re not working unless I can see you”.

So, what are the solutions?

One solution is “Re-time”. Re-time is to set a different time for travel.

Many people could make tweaks to the times that they travel. Corporates and Governments could facilitate Re-Time pilot projects. Shops and businesses could test doing some deliveries differently.

In the context of Travel Demand Management (TDM) and Behaviour Change re-time is an adaption measure. Re-timing is based on avoiding or reducing travel during peak times, especially between the hours of say 7am-9am and 4pm-6pm and successfully retiming trips to off-peak periods. Re-timing focuses on the benefits of significant travel time reductions as a result of travelling in shoulder and off-peak periods. An example of re-time is a commuter using real-time travel information apps to plan their road, public or active transport trip and subsequently travelling into a city centre, in less time, before or after the morning peak.

Goods and services can be re-timed too. There is high demand for loading zones, building servicing and short-stay kerbside parking in most city centres and urban areas during peak hours. Retiming some commercial activities to the off-peak, weekends or overnight significantly improves productivity and operational efficiencies as well as reducing disruptions and delays for road, public and active transport users.

Taxpayers, businesses and communities want solutions. They don’t want to be inconvenienced or be charged more. Re-timing some of our trips, perhaps changing our start work time once or twice a week, provides an opportunity to create change.

Richard Branson is right. It would be a mistake if we think most people need to start work at roughly the same time. And it’s critical, because right now our politicians, policy-makers and planners are faced with a multi-billion dollar problem in the peak-hour.

What do you think?

By Rachel Smith

Rachel is an author, speaker and transport planner.She was retained by the UK Government for 6 years as a specialist advisor, has spoken at more than 200 conferences, has 2 TEDx talks and her work has appeared in international media including the BBC, ABC, DW-TV, SBS, Disney Channel and The Economist. She was part of the BMW Guggenheim Lab, developed the first crowd solving bicycle map and won the CIHT BP Road Safety Award.