PLACEMAKER: a cure for commuting

by Paul Carder on December 12, 2014

By @paulcarder

Type the words “cure for commuting” into Google, you will find 6,580 results. Type the words “cure for stress” into Google, you will find 212,000 results. And so on…. “cure for cancer”, finds 656,000 results

[and “cure for” (anything), finds 34.4 million results]. So we are looking for many cures for many issues. It is a very human facet, to seek to find cures to make the lives of other people more bearable.

Almost 100 times more focus (simplistically using Google as a lense on the world) goes on cancer than it does on commuting. More than 1 in 3 people in the UK will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime. Again in the UK, Cancer is the biggest fear but 34 per cent put it down to fate. Cancer is scary – it can kill you. Though thanks to great research, a lower proportion of people are dying as more cures are discovered, and as new drugs come on line.

Commuting is a cancer on modern life

Commuting is not really comparable to cancer, is it? Really? Come on – its not going to kill you, is it? …is it?

Not in the same way, of course not (though stress is a killer) – but commuting is a ‘cancer’ on modern life. In fact, it has been for generations now, and it is getting worse. You do not even need to be in a gridlocked metropolis to experience commuting pain. It seems that every city and town has its commuting problems these days.

Yet not many people, or organisations, seem to be looking for a “cure for commuting”, relative to all the other ills of the world. We all seem to be putting a sticking plaster over a nasty-looking growth, and hoping that will make it better. It is not working. It never will. It needs to go under the knife.

In fact, if you take away from the search term “cure for commuting” the words “stress”, or “chaos”, or “blues”, or “problems”, there are very few references remaining. Urban transport planners are looking to make commuting easier, less stressful and perhaps less chaotic in some places. But they are generally not looking for a cure itself. Most people seem to assume that commuting has to happen, and therefore all one can do is to make it less painful. It has become almost like a form of palliative care….i.e., sorry, we can’t cure your disease, but we’ll try to make your life bearable. We’ll take away the pain, but we know you’ll still have to suffer.

Work and life do not need to be separated in this way. Commuting is not inevitable, nor can it continue in its current form. It is bad in many western cities – it is far worse in many recently developed or developing countries. We may complain in London or Melbourne about traffic, but we have public transport.

Johannesburg is a commuting nightmare. The Gautrain airport service won an award this year for its airport service (Sandton to OR Tambo International). But that does not help the many thousands of daily commuters with no option but to sit in traffic for hours every day.

Some of the most ‘developed’ cities are hardly better than developing countries. This article from LSE Cities describes similarities between Los Angeles and São Paulo where “a much smaller area is accessible by public transport compared to the car”.

The cure for commuting is not binary, either-or, but rather either-and

All working people must commute sometimes. We all need to travel, from where we live, to where we need to be with other people. We just do not need to do so every day, without questioning the rationale.

Real estate professionals need to consider how many different options can be created to help people to work where they find it most effective. Some of these options are as follows:

  • working at home
  • working nearer to home (as Tom Ball, CEO of is pioneering) in work ‘hubs’
  • working at partner/client offices, nearer to where you live
  • companies providing their own small workhubs, which are more regionally distributed
  • and…of course, sometimes you really must be in the corporate office, at certain times

The problem occurs, of course, where the latter is the daily default option – and where the other options are not available, nor considered.

The cure for commuting needs visionary leadership, by corporate executives

Transport planners fight for resources to make commuting more bearable for the millions of people who must commute daily. But the cure for commuting, for many thousands of people who could make use of one of the other options listed above, must be led by visionary executives.

If a CEO makes a decision to implement various work and place options, as above – making clear that ‘the office’ is not the only (or default) option – hundreds of people can begin to get some precious time back. Their lives will improve.

In fact, so will their engagement levels; so it is a win-win for corporation and employee. Gallup’s “State of the American Workplace”  discovered that 70% of U.S. workers are not engaged or actively disengaged at work. And when looking at what leaders can do to improve employee engagement and performance in their companies, trust was a key factor. And trusting employees to work remotely from their company office was cited as one way of improving employee engagement.

Build it, test it…do it again

As real estate professionals, working with occupiers of space, especially for growing numbers of knowledge-workers, we need to test out these workplace options. We need to build work-hubs closer to where people live – perhaps in their local main shopping street. We need to seek out those who are already doing this, and form partnerships and alliances.

Imagine a world where most employees could, for part of their working week, walk or cycle to their local ‘hub’. Not just the haphazard arrangement some people are forced to use today – taking their laptop to a coffee shop. But, a fully-functioning workplace, with people from many organisations, co-working together in their own town (or part of a city).

The challenge – as ever – is changing the mindset of executives and managers!

This is the one we all must work on! But the more facilities that are provided, to work effectively without the need for commuting, the more people will use them. And slowly, senior executives will see that they are not the domain of the work-shy, but rather they are used by highly engaged and committed employees who have just ‘seen a different way’.

If you own or manage a workhub, perhaps the way forward would be to try everything you can to entice CEOs to use your ‘hub’. Then they may just bring their people with them! We hope….

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