Commuting time should be counted as part of the working day, according to recent research

The University of the West of England (UWE) recently undertook a survey of 5,000 rail passengers on commuter routes into London.  They found that, thanks to widespread smartphone use and improved wi-fi access, many workers now use their home to office commute to deal with work emails, while those on the way home would use the time to catch up on work they had not finished during their regular working day.

Commuters reported that they “rely on that time” or that it was “really important to my sanity” to use travel time to deal with work issues. Others said the commute acted as a “buffer” between the office and work where they could “clear the decks for the day”.

It is argued that where workers are undertaking such tasks whilst commuting, this should be counted as working time.  However, Dr Juliet Jain from UWE has questioned how this type of working could be monitored and foresees a number of other potential difficulties.

She said: “If travel time were to count as work time, there would be many social and economic impacts, as well as implications for the rail industry.

“It may ease commuter pressure on peak hours and allow for more comfort and flexibility around working times. However it may also demand more surveillance and accountability for productivity.”

Alan Riley, Customer Services Director at Chiltern Railways, which contributed to the research, added that trains would also need to be adapted to accommodate increased commuter working.

He said: “Trains would also have to offer a good working environment including tables, power, space and good continuous connectivity for internet and phone calls, which would need investment from train operators and telecoms industries.”

Employers also need to consider the wider implications of such practices, including data security and GDPR issues. If employees are working during their commute, their devices should be installed with appropriate security to comply with GDPR and the employer’s own policies in relation to client data.

Whilst there have been legal decisions around travelling time counting as paid working time for mobile workers, there is currently no legal guidance on how to monitor or compensate employees who carry out work tasks while commuting.

Jamie Kerr, parliamentary affairs officer for the Institute of Directors, stated: “This increasing flexibility has the potential to radically shift the work-life balance for the better – but it also leaves open the door to stress and lower productivity.

“With the concept of clocking on and clocking off no longer straightforward, defining where leisure begins and work ends will be vital for both employers and individuals, as well as a complex task for regulators.”

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