Why should we sit in rush-hour traffic?

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For someone who lives 10 minutes away from the office, driving from Johannesburg to Pretoria at 6pm was a shock to the system.

More of a shock was the realisation that the majority of South Africans sit in traffic for hours: twice a day, five days a week.

We’ve supposedly just come out of “transportation month” and this year’s theme was “Together we move South Africa forward”.

Well, in peak-hour traffic, one moves forward very, very slowly.

While I inched forward I started to question why it has to be this way.

Think about it. With today’s technology, there really is no logical reason we all have to endure traffic twice a day just so that we can all start and end the day simultaneously.

Obviously, in industries like retail, shops adhere to specific trading hours, but if you’re a corporate office worker it doesn’t make sense.

Why make your workforce sit in traffic, unproductively, for a few hours, every day, just because of a predigital labour system that was designed around a 40-hour working week.

We can still work 40 hours per week, but there’s just no reason those hours have to fit into a rigid eight-hour day.

The concept of flexitime was spawned way back in the 1970s, but it is remarkable that most corporate companies still don’t embrace the idea, even though technology enables us not only to work flexible hours, but also to work remotely.

Many of us answer emails on our smartphones, in many instances outside working hours, so technically we all work remotely, already.

And yet, we are still required to clock into work, nine to five.

There are a few forward-thinking companies that are taking the concept of flexitime to another level, offering flexible work programmes, such as a compressed working week where a standard working week is compressed, allowing your workers to work longer hours but fewer days.

The most common option is working four 10-hour days per week.

Other companies have started embracing the freedom, and efficiency, that technology can bring, incorporating remote working with flexible hours.

It’s called “telecommuting”.

These companies are starting to understand that remote working is not only a practical solution for their workforce, but it also cuts costs for the company.

Shared workstations, fewer parking issues and reduced overheads such as electricity all make for compelling arguments that companies should be encouraging their workers to work remotely.

And yet, there is fierce resistance from the majority of businesses. The reason?

Managers simply don’t trust that the work will be done and that remote working equals workers slacking off.

If you’re a manager and agree with the last statement, then consider the following:

According to the Quarterly Journal of Economics, employees who are allowed to work remotely are up to 13% more productive, feel less distracted and report higher work satisfaction levels.

According to the survey, 91% of remote workers believe they “get more work done when working remotely”.

TINYpulse, a Seattle-based employee engagement firm, agrees: they claim that remote workers are happier, feel more valued and – overwhelmingly – feel they’re more productive.

So it seems that it’s not the mind-set of the workers that needs to change, but rather the mind-set of the managers – and quite clearly, it’s an issue of trust.

I understand the sense of security it might bring a manger to see “bums on seats” from nine to five, but my counterargument is that while those workers are physically present, it does not necessarily mean they are being productive.

In many instances “being at work” can also comprise lengthy chats around the coffee station, playing solitaire, or the default of diving into your social-media feeds while at work – if not on the company computer, then definitely on a personal smartphone.

Productivity can’t be measured by physicality, especially in a digital era.

Managers who are resistant to the concept of remote work had better prepare themselves for the millennial workforce, whose default preference and approach to working is work-life flexibility, rather than the soon-to-be obsolete concept of work-life balance.

There’s a subtle but significant difference.

The future of business will rely more and more on hybrid work skills, which in turn means that the workforce is going to be increasingly nomadic and transient.

James O’Reilly, co-founder of NeueHouse, a private community of leading entrepreneurs, hit the nail on the head when he said:

“The more talented the individual, the more flexibility he/she can warrant.”

For the companies that can’t trust their workers to work remotely – perhaps you’ve hired the wrong people.

Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. For more trends, visit fluxtrends.com.

Join him on Metro FM tomorrow morning at 6.30am when he discusses these trends on the First Avenue show

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