6 minute read

A year ago, I wrote a post about unintentional time that got a little bit of traction. I ended the post with an offhand comment:

Furthermore, one reason I really like remote work is because of the opportunities it brings with respect to spending my time with intention. I have started a post about this too and hopefully it will be published soon.

The draft for that post still exists, but whenever I open it I am overwhelmed with all the things I want to say with respect to remote work. I simply have too many things on my mind to fit it in one post. Therefore, I will make an attempt to split the big remote-work-post into several small ones.

This post will focus on The Commute and the cost associated with commuting.

The cost of commuting

A 30 minute (one way) commute adds up.

In a week, the 2x 30 minute long commute eats up five hours of our time.
In a month, it’s over twenty hours.
In a year1, the 30 minute commute sums up to almost 10 days.2

I don’t find any joy in commuting. On the contrary, I think commuting is absolutely horrible and a perfect example of unintentional time. The only reason we – as a society – put up with this is because the commute takes us to work, and the job we do pay our bills.

But commuting does not just cost time

My wife is a teacher and has to commute into town everyday.3 Her lost time is an indirect cost for commuting, but there is also a direct cost associated with transportation. Luckily, she finds her commute quite OK and the difference in time between commuting with car and public transportation is small. Hence, we are able to save quite a bit of money by not being car-commute-dependent.

We still pay ~1 200 SEK per month for her bus/train ticket, which she uses pretty much exclusively for commuting to/from work: 1 200 SEK / 42 trips in a month = 28 SEK per trip. If she was unable to take the bus/train and had to commute by car the cost would increase – a lot. The tolls to get into the city would be about 50 SEK and parking would be another 50 SEK, both per day. Add to that the cost of driving the car (fuel + wear) and we are easily talking about north of 200 SEK per day spent solely to enable her to do her job.4

The yearly cost for:
Public commute: 1 200 SEK * 11 = 13 200 SEK 5
Car commute: 200 SEK * 235 = 47 000 SEK 6

And all of this comes out of the pockets of the employee.

The employer/employee imbalance

Most of us trade our time for money (as opposed to piecework pay) and we only get paid when we actively do work for our employer. I.e. we don’t get paid when we’re on lunch, even if we spend lunch time in the on-premise cafeteria and it is unfeasible to leave the premise, have lunch, and be back again to resume work on time. Maybe you don’t think about the relationship between time and money in this way, but it’s there. The relationship becomes even more apparent when you work a job that bills a customer an ongoing hourly rate – e.g. most consultants and carpenters – as opposed to being a teacher or working in a department store with a monthly salary.

For some reason though, it is considered completely normal that: “the compulsory time required to transport oneself to/from one’s place of work in order to be able to carry out one’s work”,should be paid for fully by the employee.

I think it is absolutely crazy that we (again, as a society) find this to be a reasonable transaction.

What makes me even more baffled is that most companies charge their customers a “call-out-fee” when they leave their “homes” (i.e. their offices). How come that: When I pay a company to come home to me and do something, I need to pay for the time they spend ‘between jobs’, but when I work for a company they only pay me for the exact time I spend producing something for them?

I believe it’s because there is a significant imbalance between the employer and the employee. The worker is in a position of dependency, with respect to their employer, meaning that the worker stands to lose a lot more than the employer, should their relationship end. Because of this imbalance, the worker is unwilling to challenge the status quo.

Remote work balances the scales

When an employee is given the option to work from home, (s)he can decide whether to spend the time and money required to go to the place their employer has chose for them. If they like their commute, have an errand that can be carried out adjacently to their work day, or for any other reason would like to leave their home (or workplace of choice), they can do so. I still think the employee should be reimbursed for the time and cost of commuting, but when remote work is always an option I can budge – a little.

I believe that:

  1. An employee should be reimbursed for all the time they have to dedicate to their employer in order to fulfil their work duty. This naturally includes commuting, but also things like “taking a course” and “attending a conference”. I hear about so many cases where “the course/conference is free”, as if that was compensation enough for me having to give my employer hours or even days of my time without getting paid.

    If ‘getting paid for time lost’ becomes the norm, the number of unnecessary conferences will plummet and the number of remote work positions will skyrocket.

  2. We – society – must dare to challenge the status quo when it comes to remote work. I do not believe that we need laws to mandate that: “All jobs that can be done remotely shall be offered as remote positions.”, because the companies who hate remote will find ways around that. Instead, the employees must start to demand remote work.

    If you – as I – believe remote work is the best kind of work, make it clear to current and future employers that you’re not interested in taking an on-premise position. Apply for jobs and make it clear that you’re only interested in the position, if you can do it from wherever you want.

There is always a ‘but’

Lastly, don’t be dogmatic. There are cases when gathering a group of people in one place is beneficial. Naturally I believe the employer should reimburse all attendees for the time they lose due to the gathering, but I still believe there’s value for ‘remote workers’ to meet, occasionally.

Posts to come

I intend to address the following topics in upcoming posts:

  • Utilising remote work to the fullest
  • The social aspects of remote work
  • The modern office environment

And maybe one or two more.

  1. 5 days per week x 52 weeks in a year - 5 weeks of vacation. 

  2. 225 hours / 24 = 9.375 days 

  3. My wife assures me that teaching 7-year-olds remotely would not be a solution. In her case, commuting is an enabler for her to do her work. Why society find it reasonable that the employee take the whole cost for this though, is still beyond me. 

  4. This does not include cost of ownership, taxes, etc. If you need to acquire a car in order to commute to work, this equation will be significantly worse for you. 

  5. I have subtracted the cost of one month to account for vacation. However, reality is seldom that you can perfectly fit your bus ticket and vacation period, so I think this is being a bit too kind. 

  6. Same calculation as before: 5 days a week for 52 weeks, minus 5 weeks of vacation.