Hopefully you’re not reading this from behind the wheel of your car, but chances are you have logged some serious dashboard time yet today. The commute is to blame for countless problems in our society. We have to fix it.
An article from the The Washington Post—which includes a subtitle referencing “the astonishing human potential wasted on commutes”—sums it up as follows:
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.
The same article lists a bunch of other downsides to commutes, all with sources:
There’s a massive body of social science and public health research on the negative effects of commuting on personal and societal well-being. Longer commutes are linked with increased rates of obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, back and neck pain, divorce, depression and death.
At the societal level, people who commute more are less likely to vote. They’re more likely to be absent from work. They’re less likely to escape poverty. They have kids who are more likely to have emotional problems.
There’s an easy answer to the problem of commuting, which is so obvious it almost seems glib. That answer is telecommuting. And as we’ve covered here on The Methodology Blog over and over again, remote work just makes sense. Sure, there are some jobs where it will be difficult to work from home, such as being a hairstylist or a picking up garbage. The United States government announced years ago that one-third of all federal employees were eligible to telework years ago.
In short: lots of people could telecommute. Why don’t they?
People Don’t Telecommute Because Our Work Model is Based on Distrust, Not Results
It’s as simple as that. When we hire people, we expect them to be dishonest. Nearly three-fifths of hiring managers have caught applicants in a lie. And for ongoing performance management, Dan Pontefract writes that we’ve been flat for 15 years. And in that same time period, we’ve seem a marked rise in employee monitoring. We don’t trust each other at work.
The trend shows that commutes are likely to continue to get longer, trust is likely to continue to decrease, and working hours are going to continue to increase. None of this is a recipe for anything positive in our society, our environment, our businesses, or our personal lives.
But the answer is staring us right in the face. Trusting people to work addresses all of these issues. And most beautifully, people who can’t be trusted to produce work on their own time away from the office will demonstrate they are untrustworthy by not turning in work.
To put it another way, you can’t look busy if no one can see you. If you’re getting things done from the beach or from the coffee shop or from your kitchen table, you’re still getting things done. And getting things done, after all, is what really matters.
But our challenge is that all employment starts from a place of distrust. Instead of assuming people will steal, cheat, and lie, why not give them a work assignment and let them show you what they can do? That way, we’re establishing trust from the beginning, not waiting for it to be broken.
That, and the commute to their living room is better for everyone.