Why are we still commuting to work?

September 11 2013, 3 Comments

I really want to know if there is anybody who actually looks forward to their daily commute to and from work. Whether they brave crowded subways, packed buses, or deadlocked highways, I want to know if anybody out there does it with a smile on their face. I’m asking because the only logical reason we are still doing this would be because we enjoy it.

You can hit this from so many angles. From a company point of view, the money saved from not having to power and lease an office is huge. From the employee’s point of view, the benefits are countless. So what’s going on? Do I really need to spell it out, detail by detail? Are people so bound by this slave lifestyle that they can’t even imagine how technology can go a long way towards loosening their shackles?

Tractor

This can make my life easier? Nah Fuck that.

New tech ain’t nothing new

Before I slam dunk the case of remote employment down your willing throat, let’s take a look at some examples of technology making the lives of workers much easier in history. We can see the first tractors were being used around the 1850s as powered by steam. Then of course with the invention of gas engines as we know them in the 1900s, they were being used ubiquitously in places wealthy enough to afford them. Could you imagine a farmer having access to a tractor, but not using it? Foregoing the obvious efficiency because doing it the ‘way it’s always been done’ is better? I’m sure there were some people who didn’t adopt the new tech initially, but we can see today that agricultural inventions continue to roll out and are being used without hesitation.

History train now boarding! This time let’s go to the world of whaling. In the 1800′s whaling was one of the world’s biggest industries. Anybody who has read Moby Dick can recall the depiction of chasing whales for weeks, then when you finally found one, jumping into a dingy, tearing after it and attempting to kill it with harpoons. Sounds like an awesome time. So when harpoon guns came around in the early 1900s, did people ignore them? No – in fact they adopted them so fiercely that the hunting of whales had to be outlawed worldwide because populations were becoming so endangered, and of course because whales are so darn cute.

Don’t want to work remotely? I’ll take those 2 hours a day back then.

So here we are today, the internet has made it so the drudgery of the daily commute can be eliminated to massive benefits to all parties involved and yet we are still rolling into the office everyday. Before I speculate on the reasons why this could be, let’s look at the reasons why it definitely should not be.

First and most obvious is the amount of money that companies could save. The biggest cost could be not having to pay for such a large office space, which leads to not having to power and equip such a large office space. Think of all the computers that lay dormant when people go to work. Why do we need a home computer and an office computer? Furthermore, why do we need a home office and a work office? It seems like a massive waste of resources to me. If whatever company I was working for said I was able to work from home, I would be 100% willing to pay for my own computer and whatever else I needed to get the job done simply because I don’t want to commute to the office everyday.

That leads to the fact that employees could benefit exponentially from the flexibility of working from home. Ever had to go to the bank on your lunch break? Ever had to take your child to daycare? Ever had to order pizza for dinner? You wouldn’t have to do that ever again if you could work from home. I really don’t think I have to belabor the obvious boon this would be to the average office worker.

Stereotypical remote worker

Stereotypical remote worker

Too bad people are lazy and not trustworthy. Right?

Now I’m sure by now some people are thinking, “Hey Doni, if people work from home, they are just going to be lazy and end up costing more money in the long-run.” Well, if that’s a problem, it’s not because they are working remotely; it’s because there is a serious management issue in your company. Results are the only thing that matters. The farmers who used tractors used them because they could increase yield and save time. Those are results. If you are a manager of a team, then you need to create an environment that lends itself to rewarding people who meet deadlines and punishing people who slack off. If ‘John’ is an all-star and finishes his work in 2 hours, why does it matter if he uses the next few hours to take care of some errands? He has his cell-phone. He can be reached at any time. It’s totally fine. Now, if ‘Frank’ is a slacker, he’s going to be a slacker at home or in the office. Either way, he should be trained or canned. An environment that tries to ‘monitor’ people into doing a better job doesn’t make any sense at all. Without getting too theoretical, I’ll just say that fear-based motivators have been proven time and time again to not work in just about every long-term situation. If we think in a very crass “stop or I’ll shoot” kind of short-term way, then yes, fear monitoring works, grandpa.

Imagine the hour that you take going in to the office and the hour you take going home. Could not those hours be used to get something constructive done? Would not people benefit from more time? Think of the prospect of getting more time from happier people. If I was an employer that would sound pretty great to me. People would be less stressed because they could actually have time to take care of their personal affairs and I believe this would lend itself to higher performance.

Okay, I think it’s time I come clean. I hate the commute to work more than anything. I will pay hundreds of dollars more a month just to live closer to my office – anything to make the commute less dire. I’m also lazy. Super lazy. I hate waking up early. Combine my hate for rising early with my hate for the commute and that makes me a much less effective person. But beyond my own selfish desire to manage my pain, there are massive country-wide macro benefits that could be achieved if working remotely was the norm. The energy savings for starters would ease a lot of the pressure on dense metropolitan areas that are sucking every bit of energy they can out of nuclear power plants. How about all the pollution that cars spew into the air during rush hour? Perhaps fewer accidents and better overall health could come from a less stressed and less rushed society?

It should be made clear that not every job could be done remotely. Sales jobs come to mind. But it could also be argued that the mundane schmoozing done to coerce people into buying things they don’t necessarily need is also outdated. Certainly trades jobs require people to be on site and there are surely many other jobs that would be difficult to phase into a new era of remote working; but that doesn’t mean it will always be impossible or that we shouldn’t make the shift for those jobs that could easily be performed remotely right now.

Before I close, I guess I could give in to my conspiratorial side and explore the surely deceitful reasons why the ‘powers that be’ won’t remove their boot from our collective faces. Maybe oil and gas companies want us to consume more of their product? Maybe the generation currently directing companies wants people to suffer as they suffered in their younger days. Or maybe it’s just good old fashioned ignorance and ineptitude. Maybe the codgery old crustaceans in charge really have no idea how to do things differently. Perhaps they move slow and we just need to be patient. But the fact is, it’s really hard to be patient when this asshole in front of me has no idea how to merge lanes properly! Deep breaths…

Doni is a musician, comedian and writer who is trying super hard to figure out why things aren’t great for a lot of people. On his blog, “Drinking from Human Skulls”, he writes about what’s wrong, what’s right, and what could be. His goal is to help others take the first step towards understanding the current world situation in hopes that people much smarter than him can begin to fix it.

'3 Responses to “Why are we still commuting to work?”'
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