Study after study shows that location variety, aka DeskPlus, is directly correlated with increased employee happiness and productivity, but this type of workplace flexibility has other benefits, too. One is environmental. If more people worked from home or a location closer to home, just imagine how much we could reduce our greenhouse gas emissions simply by taking cars off the road and easing the burden of public transit. And as an added benefit, employees who use location variety would also be spared the agony of the daily commute.
The daily commute isn't just punishing on the environment, it's punishing on the mind and body. Thankfully, business leaders are finally starting to see how unproductive our treks to and from work can be. "It is depressing to think that millions of people endure so many wasted hours each day," observes Aha! CEO Brian de Haaff in a recent blog post. "Wasted hours because businesses think work must be done in a maze of cubes."
De Haaff highlights some startling statistics, including the fact that the average commuter spends 105 hours each year sitting in traffic—the equivalent of nearly four and a half days—and that 600,000 U.S. residents face "megacommutes" of at least 90 minutes or 50 miles one way.
"Commuting wears on your nerves and robs you of valuable time—all for the sake of getting to an office and logging onto a computer," he observes. "This seems like a lot of effort for something you could easily do from home."
Instead of sitting in traffic and facing the negative consequences of commuting, employees could reclaim their time by exercising, sleeping, or engaging in a myriad of other important preventive health measures. A 2012 study showed that blood pressure, body mass indices, and metabolic risk indicators all increase when commuting distance increases (and that doesn’t even take into account the inherent safety risks of automotive travel). Another study from 2018 found a direct correlation between commute times and sleep deprivation, with four of the most sleep-deprived states—Hawaii, Maryland, Georgia, and New York—also ranking in the top 10 states with the longest commutes.
Alternatively, one could spend their additional time focusing on professional development, which is especially helpful for companies struggling with a skills gap. If The Personal MBA author Josh Kaufman is right—that going from "knowing nothing to being pretty good" at a particular skill takes 20 hours—a person could learn a new skill just by devoting about 50 minutes per workday for a month.
Not commuting every day may also help employees improve their general outlook and mental wellbeing. A 2016 AAA Foundation report found that nearly 80 percent of drivers "expressed significant anger, aggression, or road rage behind the while at least once in the past year," with 8 million U.S. drivers engaging in extreme rageful behaviors such as ramming another vehicle or getting out of the car to confront another driver.
That said, it’s also important to recognize that commuting does provide some potential benefits. For some employees, the daily commute serves as a much-needed buffer between home and work and vice versa. And as Transit Life author David Bissell points out, commutes force people out of their personal spheres, which means the potential for more interpersonal interactions that are important for on-going personal development.
That’s why we always say that flexibility is not one-size-fits-all—location variety doesn’t suit everyone. But knowing how many of your employees actually need location-based flexibility means you can start creating better policies that benefit your people, your business, and the environment. That's a win-win-win.