Guest blog: Commuting is taking longer and making our lives harder - time for a twenty-first century approach - By Frances O'Grady, TUC General Secretary

British workers now spend the equivalent of 27 working days a year travelling to and from work, according to TUC figures published today. In the last ten years, the average commute has increased by 20 hours a year.

And commuting is eating up more of our money as well as our time. Rail fare increases of 3.6 per cent have already been announced for the start of 2018, and the price of petrol is predicted to rise as well.

With the days getting shorter, this is the time of year when the commuter blues really bite. Travelling home from work in the dark can be depressing – even dangerous – as weather worsens and travelling conditions become dismal.

It doesn’t have to be this way. And Commute Smart Week is a good time to start thinking about smarter alternatives, like flexi-time and high-quality home-working.

Living the digital revolution

One of the big questions is why so many people still travel to work at all, let alone during rush hour. Being forced to sit at a desk nine-to-five makes little sense in a digital world.

It’s not surprising many more workers want to work from home more, given the savings in both time and cost. Homeworking cuts both the time and cost of commuting. Flexi-time can also help – as anyone who’s ever been crammed onto a sweltering train at on-peak prices knows.

While new working practices won’t suit everybody, we know there’s a huge unmet demand for more flexibility. The government’s work-life balance survey suggests that well over four million more employees want flexi-time, while a similar number want homeworking.

That’s why trade unions are campaigning for working people to be able to get closer to the hours and patterns of work that they really want. This offers benefits to employers too – a healthier, happier, more engaged workforce.

But in the last decade, the number of people working flexitime has only increase by one percentage point, from 9.6 per cent in 2007 to 10.75 per cent now.

We have the technology to work smarter, but in too many cases employers’ inflexibility and fear of change is holding us back.

What’s driving the demand for more flexibility?

Aside from the obvious cost implications, which are more important than ever given the pressure on people’s incomes, there are other factors at play.

More women are in the workforce than ever before, and often require more flexible arrangements since they still tend to take on a disproportionate share of family and household responsibilities. There are also more disabled people in the workplace, and smarter, more flexible approaches can help them to thrive.  

Finally, young graduates are entering the labour market, who’ve spent their university years being told that they can work where and when they like provided they meet their deadlines. Old-style, over-regimented management clashes with their culture of self-management and self-motivation

The benefits of using flexible working practices to attract a broad pool of employees are well-documented. And as the labour market tightens post-Brexit, motivating and retaining staff will be essential to business performance. What’s more, flexi-time has been shown to reduce absences and accidents involving staff travelling to work.

This Commute Smart Week, employers should be planning how to introduce smarter practices in 2018. It’s obviously a win-win.