The Changing Nature of the Contemporary Workplace and its Impact on Work-related Travel
Recent news stories have reported on an EU Court of Justice ruling about whether people should get paid for travelling to work (http://fortune.com/2015/09/11/commuting-work-pay/ , http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-34210002 , http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/boost-for-care-staff-as-eu-court-rules-time-travelling-to-and-from-job-is-work-10495697.html?origin=internalSearch).
While the title of many stories mistakenly referred to people being paid for commuting to work, the news item does raise interesting issues about the changing nature of the contemporary workplace and its impact on what counts as work-related journeys and what counts as travelling to work.
Despite most news items suggesting that the EU ruling had implications for most workers, and commuting to work in general, the EU ruling that prompted the news articles was actually related to the specific circumstances of some Spanish workers. The employees concerned worked for a company that had closed their local/regional offices, forcing them begin their work-day from home. These workers were mobile workers, who travelled between various clients every day. The case brought by the workers related to the first and last journeys of their working day, which involved travelling to and from their home to a client site.
The workers claimed that due to the closure of their offices their homes had become their primary workplace, that their working day therefore started when they left home, and didn’t end until they arrived home. As a consequence, they claimed that these first and last journeys constituted work time, where they travelled between different workplaces, and that they should therefore be paid for the time these journeys took. The EU ruling supported the case of the workers.
The changing face of today’s workplace
However, many contemporary changes to the nature of the contemporary workplace, such as via home-based working, mobile working, and the use of hot-desking, do have implications for what counts as a workplace, and the character of work-related travel.
Fundamentally, the traditional view of the workplace, such as a particular fixed office, desk, or location in a factory, is changing for many workers. With such ‘traditional’ static workplaces, commuting is a daily routine, which involves travelling to and from home to the formal workplace, with work not officially starting until people arrive at their workplace. However, the proportion of workers undertaking such journeys on a daily basis has been declining for many years.
With home-based working, where people work either partly or wholly from their home, the workplace may be whatever part of the home is colonized as a workspace for the duration of the home-based working day. This could vary from being a dedicated home workspace, such as a garden office, or a home-office, to the corner of a bedroom or a kitchen table, dependent on people’s home circumstances.
In these instances, ‘travelling to work’ may involve nothing more arduous than walking from the home kitchen to the dedicated workspace. For people interested in home-working the elimination of sometimes long and potentially tiring and stressful commutes represents one of the key benefits of homeworking. For these workers, commuting only happens if and when they travel to their employer’s workplace.
However, working at home may not always be as idyllic as initial impressions seem, especially if it is something that workers are forced to do, rather than choose to do.
The pros and cons of ‘hot-desking’
The increased use of hot-desking by organizations may be a ‘push’ related factor requiring people to occasionally work from home. With hot-desking workers lose the privilege of having a specific, permanent personal desk or office space to themselves, and instead have to compete for shared desk space as well as regularly work from home.
The organizational benefit of hot-desking is financial savings generated via reducing the amount of office space that is needed. Thus, hot-desking, as with home-working, can have profound implications for the nature of the workplace as well as the amount of commuting people undertake.
While those forced to hot-desk and occasionally work from home due to an organizational hot-desking initiative may save on such commuting time, they may have the disadvantage of having to compete for office space, have to work in increasingly noisy and impersonal shared office space, and have to work at home in circumstances that are not ideal for home-working.
Another trend reducing the significance of traditional workplaces is the growth in mobile, or multi-location working. This type of work is something that has always existed for some, for example, delivery workers such as postal workers, drivers and transport workers such as sailors, or sales and support staff who require to travel between the sites of the various clients they work for. For such workers, work-related travel is an intrinsic part of their job.
The type of journeys undertaken by these workers are quite distinct from commuting, and involve essential journeys that are undertaken in order to carry out work activities, and which involve travel between different work locations. For the Spanish workers in the EU case, this was the type of work-related travel they undertook.
Contemporary evidence suggests an increasing proportion of workers, including managerial and professional workers, can be classified as mobile or multi-location workers, due to the increased need for travel that their work can regularly involve. For example, managers and professionals working in multinational organizations may have to travel between its various sites, either to participate in collaborative activities, or manage workers at multiple locations.
For mobile or multi-location workers, the workplace is not a singular location, but is a space and location that is constantly changing, and could include the car, train or plane used for travelling, a hotel, railway station or airport, or a client site. Thus, for such workers, work-related travel is a regular, if not constant feature of life, and traditional visions of commuting, and working from a static office space become only memories.