There has been a flurry of media coverage that you might have missed (what with blanket Brexit coverage), about whether commuting time should be counted as part of the working day? The question is part of a wider conversation about work/life balance and how IT connectivity is blurring the lines between work and home. It is a complex and ambiguous area. However, employers and HR professionals need to be abreast of the arguments for and against. This article seeks to do that and provide some pragmatic guidance if someone raises the question in your workplace.

What is causing this debate right now?

Research published by University of West of England (UWE) carried out amongst 5,000 rail passengers on commuter routes into London.

In recent years Wi-Fi services on trains have improved and it was found that 54% of commuters used the train’s Wi-Fi service to manage work email accounts. The work on the morning commute is responding to emails from overnight, while homeward-bound, it is tying up email loose-ends at the end of the day. As internet access improves, the consequence for rail commuters who choose to work on-board is a longer working week.

This is an issue that won’t go away. The regulators and law makers have a difficult job on their hands creating a balanced framework to support people who choose to work and protect those who choose not to.

I’m an employer. What are some of the issues I should be thinking about?

It is helpful to consider your own opinion about your staff adding to their hours by doing extra work on the way to and from the office. Perhaps your view is that there is no expectation to work extra time and that while it may be necessary from time-to-time, it should not be the norm. If such working has become the norm, then what are the expectations of that part of the role and why is it that the job cannot normally be performed within contracted hours?

Whatever the context of any discussion with a team member, the starting point should always be the expectation of a sensible chat addressing an issue which is very fluid at this point in time.

Is working during the commute productive working time?

Is time spent working on a train as productive compared to the same time spent in the workplace? Cramped trains, background noise, reliability of connectivity, tunnels, confidentiality, security and typing accuracy are all relevant issues and distractions. The poor quality of time and that you have no expectations of your staff to work to and from work leads you to conclude that commuting time should not be part of the working day. You may choose to ask in return why the staff member feels it necessary to work on the way to and from their employer?

What about other forms of transport?

The UWE research is based on train commuters, but others who travel by bus car-share might raise the same questions.

Data and IT security

Before considering the question of commuting being part of the working day, employers should consider issues such as data security and GDPR. If staff are to work ‘on the move’, laptops and smartphones should be equipped with suitable security to comply with GDPR and an employer’s own policies regarding client data.

Trust and Accountability

No verification exists that a staff member is spending commuting time working. Although as an employer, if you don’t trust your own staff then you are questioning your own recruitment judgement! Any arrangement about commuting time being work-time can only be made based on trust at the moment.

Will staff working while on the way to and from the workplace help my business?

There is little evidence that extra work brings economic benefits through greater productivity. There is an argument that by extending working hours into commutable time, that physical and mental health of staff can suffer. An article in Metro newspaper suggests that time savings working on a train are illusory. The extra time working on the commute compensates for lower productivity in the workplace.

Contact us

If you would like guidance to help create a policy about flexible working, or you need some advice because an employee has raised an issue like this with you, contact the vivoHR team on or call 01252 757359.

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