Working on the move: Why are motorway service station car parks and train carriages good places to work?
When sitting on trains or planes, or when passing through airports and motorway service stations it is a commonplace contemporary experience to see business travellers working. Often this involves the use of mobile phones, but may also involve working on laptops or working with paper documents. Such anecdotal experiences raise various questions about the general extent to which business travellers work as they travel, as well as the type of work activities they choose to undertake.
Attempting to answer such questions was a key motivation behind the research undertaken by Donald Hislop (Reader in Sociology of Contemporary Work, School of Business and Economics) and Carolyn Axtell (Institute of Work Psychology, Sheffield University), which has been published recently in an article in the journal Work, Employment and Society.
To undertake this research, Hislop and Axtell distributed surveys to business people undertaking work-related journeys by car, plane and train. This was done by handing surveys to travellers at an airport, a motorway service station and on some trains.
The survey asked people about how often they travelled for work, how much journey time they devoted to working, the type of tasks they undertook when travelling and the extent to which various factors such as noise and space made working difficult.
Over 1100 survey were distributed and almost 700 were returned completed. This data therefore allowed Hislop and Axtell to compare all these issues across journey types. Some of the findings from this study are as follows:
- Across all the various journey types and stages examined the two places where business travellers were most likely to work was while travelling on trains, and while sitting in their cars at motorway service stations. The attraction of trains as a work location relates to the space that business travellers can find if they are able to get a seat and a table. When they are able to find such space, business travellers report working equally with documentation and laptops, but not so much with mobile phones. However, people’s ability to work on trains was inhibited by a lack of space when trains were busy, poor mobile phone reception, and privacy/confidentiality concerns. The attraction of service station car parks as a work location relates to the private and generally quiet space they provide to car-based travellers. In such circumstances, travellers reported being able to make a wide range of phone calls that were difficult to make in more noisy and public locations, as well as being able to check emails or work with documentation.
- Across all journey types, the place that people were least likely to work was while on board planes. This was due to a combination of factors including prohibitions on the use of mobile communication technologies, a general lack of space, as well as concerns about privacy/confidentiality.
- In terms of the types of tasks that business people did, and the types of technology they used to work, significant variations were found across different journey stages. Thus, while travelling by train people were more likely to use a pen and paper to work than they were to work with a laptop or a mobile phone. In contrast, for time spent at airports, or within cars in service station car parks, mobile phones were the technology most used for work. The differences in these patterns are closely linked to the specific features of the travel environment at these different locations.
Overall, while the survey data suggested that mobile phones were an important work-related technology for business travellers, so also was the less modern, and non-interactive technology of pen and paper.
Thus, in the rush to examine how mobile technologies are changing people’s experiences of work, we should not neglect the fact that other more mundane technologies and artifacts are also important work tools.
- Full article in Work, Employment and Society that the blog post is based on: http://wes.sagepub.com/content/early/2015/02/11/0950017014559767.abstract
- Article in Independent based on the WES article: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/why-the-bleak-service-station-is-best-for-business-people-10131240.html
- YouTube video related to my interest in researching business travel: http://youtu.be/dPPJf3g3imk