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Does the boss want those 2 hours of your free time back? A study says fighting through crowds to office each day hurts productivity

Never want to return to daily 9-5 regime? Use psychology to baffle higher-ups

With some company bosses hellbent on forcing staff to return to the office once the pandemic is over, research has arrived that warns of the productivity pitfalls of expecting minions to re-embrace the daily commute.

Whether it be fighting through traffic in a car, risking your life on British roads from the saddle of a bike or enduring the grind of train delays and breakdowns, very few sane humans will have missed the thrill of travelling to work.

Now a paper accepted for publication in the Journal of Applied Psychology may be riding to the rescue of travel-shy people everywhere. Sure, it states the bleeding obvious, but it might provide an opportunity to blind your dullard boss with science.

The study was written by Wladislaw Rivkin, associate professor at Trinity Business School in Dublin, Ireland; Fabiola Gerpott, professor of leadership at the Otto Beisheim School of Management in Düsseldorf, Germany; and Dana Unger, associate professor of organisational behaviour at the University of East Anglia. The study found that commuting drains mental energy, which in turn zaps productivity.

"Because of its regular occurrence, commuting is an automatic habit. However, an unpleasant commuting experience like heavy traffic requires employees' self-regulation to shift toward controlled cognitive processing," said Rivkin.

He said workers needed to "adapt to work plans" when walking into the office late or "decide during the commute whether to pass on information about potential delays to colleagues."

Commuting is stressful: official


So perhaps the solution is to go to work later, perhaps by devising an elaborate ruse to explain why you were forced to party until 4am and how this meant you slept through the alarm. At El Reg, one former vulture from days of yore seemed to encounter all sorts of delays on one particular Tube line, including near-weekly suicide attempts by fellow Tube users.

Rivkin continued: "In turn, states of controlled cognitive processing deplete regulatory resources and put employees into a resource protection, negatively effecting productivity."

The answer? Flexibility. If the big bad boss wants you back in the office when this viral nastiness ends - assuming it does - then flexible working arrangements or at the very least flexi-time to avoid the rush hour may help, says the report.

"Although commuting is an everyday experience for most people, its dynamic nature and implication for daily life in organisations has been largely overlooked. Our research demonstrates that commuting reduces productivity at work though draining mental energy and the preventing immersive states of flow," said Rivkin.

"Leaders should focus on satisfying employees' fundamental needs by assigning work tasks that enhance employees' competences and providing employees with decision making autonomy," he added.

Fujitsu is demonstrating flexibility - and no doubt some cost savings - in Japan by closing 50 per cent of its real estate and giving staff different options of how to work. The company has yet to tell us how these plans will cascade to overseas operations.

Oracle and HPE used the pandemic to rethink things and are moving corporate HQs from California to Texas; and Salesforce's back to work plan seems to hinge on Volunteer Vaccinated Cohorts of protected employees.

One of the most vocal outlets about getting people back into the classic workplace setting is Workday: CEO Aneel Bhusri said in January: I'm a big believer that we're going to be back in the office.

"I know that in the case of Workday, that's what I'm asking," he said, although he conceded: "Maybe a handful of people can work remotely.

He said he believe that remote working does not allow teams to collaborate or businesses to engender a "great culture and an inspired workforce."

At least for Bhusri, it seems the novelty of WFH has worn off, prompting the exec to opine: "Maybe five days is too much family time. One or two days is a good amount."

As we have already established, two days at the office and three at home seems to be the favoured set-up for Reg readers. If your bosses disagree, then you've got the word of clinical psychologists to back you up. ®

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