Public transport disruption prompts flexible working hours


Public transport woes are part and parcel of living in any major global city. Just last month, we found out about the upcoming closure of nine rail lines in Melbourne, with a warning that 1.5 million train commuterswill be forced to find other transport for more than three weeks in an “unprecedented” disruption.

Sydney isn’t any better, with hundreds of peak hour commutersbeing stranded with no warning due to emergency repairs.

Now, I don’t deny that our cities need these infrastructure upgrades – train patronage in Australian capital cities has almost doubled since 2000 and disruptions to accommodate one of the top five fastest growing populationsin the world are inevitable. But businesses need to consider how this will affect the daily commute and their employees’ productivity levels for the best part of a month.

According to data from HERE Technologies, almost 25% of Australian workers commute on public transport. This stat is even higher for millennials, with 68% of people aged 18-34 travelling to and from work by bus, train or tram.

That’s a significant proportion of our population whose workplace productivity lies at the whim of planned and unplanned disruptions. Can the pressures of commuting (both by rail and car) be swayed by flexible working arrangements, to ease the burden on employees and businesses alike?

A public transport shutdown may just be the perfect time to find out…

Train vs brain: The effects of commuting on mental health

A UK study found that people who commuted to work in under half an hour gained an additional seven days’ worth of productive time each year as opposed to those with commutes over an hour or more.

But time isn’t the only talking point – it’s also employees’ health and wellbeing we have to take into consideration. Workers with long commutes are 33% more likely to suffer from depression, 37% more likely to have financial worries and 12% more likely to report multiple aspects of work-related stress.

They are also 46% more likely to get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep each night and 21% more likely to be obese.

Of course, it’s not just public transport disruptions that contribute to a stressful commute – driving to work in city traffic can be just as bad if not worse; a problem for 70% of Australia’s workers.

So, what’s the simple solution here?

Flexible working options can ease the mass stress

There is no doubt in my mind that more flexible and remote working arrangements can only benefit your organisation and would argue that this comes down to employee’s autonomy over their time.

Employees able to work flexibly are less likely to be stressed or depressed and have found to produce an extra five productive days a year compared to those with zero flexible working arrangements. Plus, studies have shown that remote workers show higher levels of engagement in their work, and even “clearer boundaries and work habits”.

And it’s no rarity. 70% of the Australian workforce already works remotely at some point each week.  And in a recent survey of more than 2000 Australian, New Zealand and Singaporean tech workers, we found that flexibility, career progression, leadership and culture are more important to employees than money.

Here at Halcyon Knights, we have a flexible workplace that encourages our employees to work from wherever, or whenever they want. This not only means they aren’t stressing about how they’ll get to work in time during this “unprecedented” public transport disruption, but also means that they’re spending more productive time working, and with their families.

Not for everyone, but powerful for some

It’s not something every company is able to do – I get that. Technology hasn’t yet advanced far enough to allow for nurses or event organisers to dial in from behind a screen – and we don’t want that. The world would fall apart. Plus, flexibility doesn’t come without teething problems: 21% of remote workers report “loneliness” to be one of their core work issues.

But often companies put the concept into the ‘too hard’ basket and don’t realise that, with balance and infrastructure, the benefits can outweigh the hurdles. I know we did for a long time, and we didn’t achieve the balance we have today overnight.

The upcoming rail shutdown presents the perfect opportunity to test the waters, and give your employees more flexible start times or encourage them to work from home once a week.

There are small steps you can take on the way to fully-fledged flexible working policy, trusting your employees is one of them. You don’t need to do a pricey audit of your cloud-based tech and remote software straight away.

If you can’t work anything else out, at least give them an extra 30 minutes to get to the footy on Friday – with no trains through Richmond it’s the least you can do.

Lincoln is the Co-founder and Director at technology recruitment agency, Halcyon Knights. Based from Melbourne, Lincoln works with his team in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore to tackle the challenges facing technology recruitment.