Meeting Martin: Commuting misery solved

What is the point of time? Perhaps it’s nice to know what day it is to keep you in check for birthdays, deadlines and other such trivial events, but why are we so obsessed with it, and more to the point, why are we obsessed with wasting it?

Why did your last meeting start at 9am? That’s a selfish time, you know full well your attendees are all scurrying and stressing through the morning rush hour with their noses pressed up against train doors (unless they use Southern, in which case they’ll still be standing on the platform, shivering). Why didn’t you ask them all to arrive casually for 10am? They will have missed the rush hour and will very likely have had more time to bring some decent chatter to the table.

Read more Meeting Martin: Don’t be an accountant, buy expensive shoes.

And then there’s the workday. What on earth is the point of 9am to 5pm, or even 6pm at some cheekier employers?

The 9-5-work day is an archaic notion, much like steam locomotion, the telegram, and birching.

If you said to your employee, “Archibald, if you get all your work done, you can leave at 3pm,” Archibald would easily get everything done within that time. So why can’t he just leave at 3pm every day?

What are you paying for: his time or his productivity?

No, really, think about it. What is the point of someone sitting at his or her desk until 5pm needlessly? It’s often a complete waste of time that would be better spent relaxing at home or spending time with family… or in the pub.

It’s worth stating that in some cases a longer shift is required, but a mutually flexible relationship would understand this. If someone needed to stay on an hour or two to lock down a report then so be it, but if their two-hour commute is going to mean they are going to miss reading their children a bedtime story every night then you can be sure their sanity will eventually be tested.

As more and more people flock to live in London (or to buy empty riverside apartments with which to keep empty), the price of property goes up, making it more and more unaffordable. London isn’t expensive for a laugh; it’s expensive because of its popularity.

The result is that millions of people are forced further out into the suburbs and beyond, with a longer commute now considered inevitable, all for the want of an affordable place to live.

The idea of 9-5 once made sense when results were simpler: you made money or you didn’t. But back in the 1950s you likely lived nearer your inner-city office, because you could afford to. And if you commuted, it was a darn sight cheaper.

Today, the 9-5-workday is merely arbitrary; a fusty British concept that has failed to change with the times, much like British Leyland.

Today, modest earners don’t stand a chance of living in London, and are forced to move further out into the Home Counties. The result: a two-hour commute door-to-door, and eye watering expense; 9-5 very soon becomes 7-7.

As an employer you can’t say you loath time wasters yet willingly let employees slog out a two-hour commute each morning and evening where they achieve precisely nothing. And that’s before you consider the preposterous expense of it. How is anyone to be at the top of their game after they’ve been stuck in someone’s armpit since pulling out of Cockfosters?

It is utter, contemptible madness.

So what might be done?

Flexible hours and the option to work from home if needs must are essential concepts in the modern age. Meetings, too, can be done virtually and it is staggering that this is not more mainstream. There are countless virtual office programmes out there, so why aren’t people using them?

The main reason why 9-5 still exists boils down to a matter of trust. The fear is that if left to their own devices, employees would be holed up in the Fox & Slacker all day. No doubt some would take advantage, but they could be easily fired and replaced with potted plants. Most people, all too aware that they have mortgages and rent to cover, will not be so brazen.

Fifty employees can be sitting at home with their laptops open, with a check-in software that flags up to a boss if there has been no activity for an hour or so. The result? Tardiness is no longer an issue, having a cold no longer sends wave after wave of lurgy around the office and, best of all, commuting becomes a thing of the past.

Why not tell people they go when their work is done? Or perhaps letting an entire staff work from home just one day a week would make a difference?

Think how much quieter and less polluted the roads would be? Greenists would be swooning with joy. Think how much quieter the railways would be, rail bosses would be defeated and most of us would no longer be collateral for the unions. But, most importantly, think how much happier and productive everyone would be.

Wasting fuel and money on getting to work or meetings is one thing, but you can’t put a price on people’s time.

Martin Fullard

Martin Fullard: journalist, presenter, producer. Martin is the Deputy Editor at Conference News and Conference & Meetings World magazines. He leads the digital channels on Mash Media’s Conference Division as well as heading up Mash TV. He is formerly a web editor at a national newspaper in the Middle East and motoring journalist.

Martin Fullard

Author

Martin Fullard

Martin Fullard: journalist, presenter, producer. Martin is the Deputy Editor at Conference News and Conference & Meetings World magazines. He leads the digital channels on Mash Media’s Conference Division as well as heading up Mash TV. He is formerly a web editor at a national newspaper in the Middle East and motoring journalist.

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