The average worker logs almost an hour of unpaid work each day, for no good reason.
I’m talking about the commute, which for decades has been taken for granted as a necessary part of the workday but which recently has been proven to be completely unnecessary for a large swath of workers.
The miserable trek down the freeway or the sweaty wait for a late bus is coming back in vogue now that companies from Apple to Amazon and Goldman Sachs to JPMorgan Chase have told their workers to come back to the office in larger numbers. They say they need to do this to foster innovation and increase productivity.
As a CEO, that doesn’t make any sense to me.
Our credit card processing company, Gravity Payments, has worked remotely since the pandemic began. How was our productivity affected? This April, we set a record for revenue. In May, we broke that again.
The extra revenue allowed us to grow past 200 employees for the first time, and remote work opened up our recruiting pool significantly: we now have workers in 24 states.
Nationwide, research shows remote work has fueled a 5% increase in productivity, largely because people aren’t burnt out from commuting.
What motivates you? The chance to have a pizza party at the office? Or knowing you can spend rush hour having dinner with your family instead of getting honked at by someone who just cut you off?
The truth is, companies have had it too good for too long by requiring staff to spend unpaid time traveling to and from work just so managers can feel in control.
Let’s do some basic math to illustrate just how much of a raw deal commuting is for workers:
The average worker spends 55.2 minutes commuting each day, up 10% from 2006.
The typical worker makes $20.17 an hour. But add in the time commuting, and that pay rate drops to $18.09 an hour.
Here’s another way of thinking about it: if you actually got paid for the time you commute, the median worker would make an extra $4,800 a year.
Add in the hefty cost of commuting and it’s not hard to see why so many workers are quitting jobs that are requiring them to trek back to the office.
And the money is only half the story: research shows that workers feel more negative emotions during their morning commute than at any other point in the day. How does making people miserable before work unlock productivity?
What’s the solution? Just ask employees what they want.
Instead of making a top-down decision as a CEO, I asked our staff how they want to work. Just 7% wanted to go back to the office full time, while 31% wanted an office-remote hybrid and the remaining 62% wanted to work from home all the time. So I told them: sounds great. Do whatever you want.
This stuff isn’t hard. Employees know how to do their jobs better than any CEO ever could.
The shift to remote work can be life-changing for employees. Like a lot of companies, our main office is located in a high-cost city. Here in Seattle, basic necessities can be a struggle even with our company’s median salary close to $100,000. Now, employees have been able to keep their salary and move to more affordable areas, where they find it possible for the first time to afford a house and start a family.
For employers, there are plenty of benefits to putting employees first. I keep reading headlines about companies being unable to find workers. But we’ve had more than 300 applicants per job opening this year. We’ve always had a lot of applicants because of our $70,000 minimum wage, but nothing like the flood of interest we’ve seen since we made job openings remote-eligible.
In the bigger picture, eliminating commutes is probably the single biggest thing any company can do to help the environment. Whenever I turn on my TV, I see ads from corporations claiming to be green. Then I open the newspaper and read how they require desk workers to spend an hour a day spewing exhaust into the atmosphere to reach an office park not accessible by public transit.
I know companies already on the hook for millions of dollars in office leases want to use their space. But forcing all employees back to work is throwing good money after bad, and will create extra short-term costs (like turnover) and long-term costs (like low morale).
There are plenty of businesses that really do need to operate in person, and specific roles that require face-to-face interaction. But people who have shown over the last year that they can do their job just as well or better at home deserve to choose how they want to work – and companies will be better off by getting out of the way and letting workers decide.