Externalizing the cost of the daily commute

Just a day after a United Nations panel called for urgent action on climate change, the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences was awarded Monday to one American researcher for his work on the economics of a warming planet and to another whose study of innovation raises hopes that people can do something about it.The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the $1-million prize Monday to William Nordhaus of Yale University and Paul Romer of New York University. Nordhaus, 77, who has been called “the father of climate change economics,” developed models that suggest how governments can fight global warming. He has endorsed a universal tax on carbon, which would require polluters to pay for the costs that their emissions impose on society.

Source: Nobel in economics goes to two Americans for studying climate change and sustainable growth – Los Angeles Times

Or as economists term it, externalizing the costs. In the Industrial Age that brought the centralization of workplaces, the environmental as well as personal costs of daily commuting were externalized onto society and workers, respectively.

Now that Information and Communications Technology (ICT) allows knowledge workers at least to work where they live, acceptance of those costs is likely to meet with increased resistance. Especially if high carbon taxes are adopted and commuters face rising fuel and other transportation costs. And for good reason. The externalization and bearing of those costs no longer makes sense.

When you can choose to work anywhere, where will you choose to work? – Workplace Insight

One of the great questions that hangs over workers in the new era of boundless work is this: When you can choose to work from anywhere, where will you choose to work? It’s not just a question for the growing army of workers who find themselves unfettered from the traditional times and places of work. They will naturally choose to work in the places they feel make them most productive and happy, which nurture their wellbeing and chime with their values. The challenge for the owners and the occupiers of offices is to create the working environments that will draw people to them.

Source: When you can choose to work anywhere, where will you choose to work? – Workplace Insight

This isn’t just a challenge of office design. It’s one of logistics and personal economics since working in an office for most involves considerable time and money spent commuting to and from it. Making the office space more comfortable and inviting does not and cannot address that unless it includes a Star Trek-like transporter room that allows staff to beam in for a meeting. As metro areas grow and become more congested, the problem only grows worse. Knowledge workers will think, “That’s a really cool office, but what a pain and time suck to get there.”

Given the choice on where to regularly work and in the interest of their personal well being, the obvious one for most knowledge workers is as close to home as possible.

The astonishing human potential wasted on commutes – The Washington Post

According to the Census, there were a little over 139 million workers commuting in 2014. At an average of 26 minutes each way to work, five days a week, 50 weeks a year, that works out to something like a total of 1.8 trillion minutes Americans spent commuting in 2014. Or, if you prefer, call it 29.6 billion hours, 1.2 billion days, or a collective 3.4 million years. With that amount of time, we could have built nearly 300 Wikipedias, or built the Great Pyramid of Giza 26 times — all in 2014 alone.Instead, we spent those hours sitting in cars and waiting for the bus. Of course, not all of us have 26-minute commutes. Roughly a quarter of American commutes are less than 15 minutes one way. On the other hand, nearly 17 percent of us have commutes that are 45 minutes or longer. And the prevalence of these long commutes — and of really, really long commutes — is growing.

Source: The astonishing human potential wasted on commutes – The Washington Post

With today’s 21st century information and communications technology, it no longer makes sense for knowledge workers to waste so much time traveling to and from centralized commute-in offices as they did in previous century’s Industrial Age. This article does a great job assigning a personal time cost to the commute.

Organizations have long regarded commuting expense as a cost borne by the employee and not the organization. But there is a significant organizational cost in the adverse impact on employee health and wellness given time spent commuting is time taken away from health promoting behaviors such as exercise, adequate sleep and meals prepared at home rather than take out food. Over time, that can manifest in higher employee health benefit costs, a top cost concern among most employer organizations.

I recently completed a white paper on an alternative workplace wellness concept that utilizes ICT to enable knowledge workers to work in their home communities where they have greater access to these health promoting activities rather than commuting out each workday. I am seeking sponsors for the paper; interested parties can contact me by clicking on the mail button at the top right hand of the site.