Thursday, 9 August 2018

The impact of "bad" commuting on our mental health - time for a new approach?

I have been wondering for a while if I'm part of the last generation of commuters... Those that are part of that mad rush to get up, dash to the station only to find out that the train you want is cancelled... Then the tube has a signal failure and you find yourself as I do now sat on a central line train in a tunnel that has been going no where for half an hour on one of the hottest days of the year. Looking to my watch I see I've now missed my 9 o'clock meeting and am wondering if I will make it in to the office in time for my 10 o'clock...

The stress, the tiredness, the long days and the loss of evenings - it all adds up to quite poor mental health... It can't be that long now until we all collectively say "enough"...?
Yesterday I was in Manchester and the train back was delayed by over an hour, so ultimately I arrived home at 10pm - long travel and tiring too it's now 9:40 in the morning the next day and I've spent longer on trains/teams/tubes in the last 12 hours than I have in bed let alone asleep. I'm not alone with this, as a Great Northern rail commuter I've have 9 weeks of a variety of new "timetables" each of which has been fairly random in terms of knowing if you'll get to work, home or just be abandoned at some random location due to a lack of relief driver...

And yet, the technology exists for working from anywhere - the need to be in an office every day has I think now gone, and it's not too expensive either. It's a cultural shift that's required. The expectations that we need to meet face to face every meeting or must sit together on the same bank of desks are not really true any more. Yes, there is huge value in that face to face time - but, does it need to be every day? I'm not sure any more. So why are we not embracing home working? Trust is probably the main "cultural" reason if you can be seen at a desk you must therefore be working and it makes it easier to justify the spend in their people budget.

However, from my experience when I and my teams work at different locations we are generally a happier bunch, more productive and have a better overall work/life balance. Why? Well, without the stress of commuting its a case of powering up and away you go so the start of the day is easier; a home environment is generally more customised to an individuals needs and preferences in terms of layout, monitors, keyboards etc - a better environment means its easier to get things done; and the balance is there - when work is finished you power down and then have your "home" life without the travel impact in between. And, for those with young parents never under estimate the importance of being able to read a bedtime story to them - one of the best parts of the day if you ask me.

So, are we moving in that way - I think actually we probably are. Quoting the BBC: "In 2017 there was a 5% drop in rail journeys, bus passengers have dropped by 6% in three years, there was 13 million fewer journeys on the Tube (or 2%) in 2017, compared to 2016".  Some of this will be linked to changing social habits - staying in more etc. however, I do have a personal suspicion that a good chuck of the change is a shift in working patterns to being much more flexible about locations, times and making much better use of technology.

If the shift gathers momentum then I think it can only be a good thing to help with our overall mental health; it will raise a different question - what to do with all that slowly emptying office space in our major towns and cities?

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