WORKPLACE / MAR. 29, 2015
version 2, draft 2

Study Explores How and Where We Work While Commuting

Cross Country Train

The modern world is nothing if not flexible, with technology and (sometimes) culture enabling us to work anywhere and everywhere.  Remote workers are a feature of most coffee shops in major cities, and it’s increasingly common to see people tapping away at a laptop while commuting on the train and even on planes.

See Also: Commuting to Work - Driving Vs. Public Transport

If working on our commute is increasingly common, is there a best way of doing it? That was the question posed by a recent study by a team of UK based researchers. They found that, perhaps not surprisingly, conditions on our commute are often pretty poorly suited to doing any meaningful work. Rather depressingly, the study revealed that the most popular place to do work while on the move was in a service station car park.

The study, which was recently published in the Work, Employment and Society Journal, highlighted the significant variations in things such as noise levels and space that often hamper our attempts to work whilst on trains and aeroplanes.

The researchers surveyed several hundred commuters as they travelled on intercity trains, the motorway and at an airport. They were looking specifically for how working conditions on each mode of transport affected the work done by each person.

The results revealed that 42 percent of people managed to work a lot whilst on trains, compared to 29 percent who did so at airports, 13 percent on the planes themselves, and 44 percent in the car park at the motorway service station.

What Stops us From Working?

The data revealed that lack of space was often the biggest hurdle to us working while on the move. Roughly twice as many people reported that as an issue than did the amount of noise around them on a train.  This was even more pronounced on planes, with 71 percent complaining about the lack of space, with just 16 percent regarding noise levels as an issue.

"An initial observation is that with the exception of time spent on board planes, where significant restrictions on technology use operate, business travellers worked extensively when travelling," the authors say.

The paper goes on to say that while we often have the chance to work while on business trips, this should not be taken to mean that we both want or are able to do so.

"Overall, these data highlight significant variations between journey stages in terms of the extent to which the factors examined inhibited people’s ability to work. They highlight that the two journey stages during which business travellers were most likely to work extensively were when in train carriages and sitting in their cars in service station car parks," they say.

The researchers suggest that because work related travel is an increasingly important part of our work, it’s increasingly likely that we’ll be required to do some work while on the move.

See Also: Warning: Your Commute Is Probably Making You Miserable

Aside from looking at the location of this work, the study also explored the tools we use. Interestingly, it emerged that the humble pen and paper were most common when travelling on trains or planes. Mobile phones then came to the fore when working at the airport or the service station.

Do you work while travelling? Are you able to work effectively in many different locations or do your efforts sometimes become trivial? Your thoughts and comments below please...


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