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Among the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic was that employees whose job responsibilities allowed a work-from-home arrangement made this transition. Less time spent commuting and less urban traffic congestion were among the benefits of many individuals working from home. Improvement in the air quality of large cities was noted. As the pandemic wanes, organizations are determining post-pandemic expectations regarding work settings and arrangements for such workers.

Several papers published in 2021 report the results of investigations of how commuting distance is associated with health and productivity. Although the data used in these investigations were pre-pandemic, the studies are timely for considerations about work arrangements.

A group of Scandinavian investigators examined commuting distance and health behaviors. Commuting distance greater than 7.9 km (4.9 miles) was found to be associated with more physical inactivity, more overweight and obesity, and more sleep problems.

 Investigators from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the Harvard Business School examined the relationship between commuting distance and the productivity of inventors. Every 10 km (6.2 miles) increase in commuting distance was associated with a 5% decrease in patent productivity and a 7% decrease in patent quality. Productivity loss was greatest among the most high-performing inventors. Whether or not commuting distance is associated with productivity in other fields is not known.

It is important to note that active commuting, such as biking or walking to work, has been associated with better physical fitness and less overweight and obesity in other research. Furthermore, active commuting has been associated with better mental health and life satisfaction.

Some commuters find that travel time to and from work functions as a meaningful transition period that can involve listening to music or books, or quiet “think time.” For those who use some form of public transportation, a commute may provide time to read or effectively begin or extend the workday by spending time on work-related tasks. And the social, interpersonal, and productivity benefits of in-person interaction in the workplace may more than offset any downsides to commuting for employees and organizations.

Many variables impact commuting distance, time, and quality, and whether or not a given employee has any options to work from home. Where there are options regarding commutes, the available research evidence suggests that the health and productivity of employees are factors to be considered in the decision-making process, as are the benefits of in-person interaction in the workplace.

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