Last time out, I talked about how we’re all slaves to an oligarchical system that, let’s face it, we’ve put in place. And we talked, in a very meandering fashion because I end up writing these in the wee hours of the morning when I’m half delirious, about one way to change it: by altering the system through (GASP) doing our own research, learning the candidates, and voting your conscience rather than your paycheck.
See, traditionally the Right says they want less taxes (or more uniform-percentage taxes) which mean they get to keep more money – which remember we equated to time. And conversely the Left says they want to get more benefits for the lower-SES folks (and that money’s got to come from somewhere. Hint: it won’t be out of the government’s cut). The difficulty comes hence: what happens when someone is suited to cross-purposes, such as an out-of-work person who is devoutly Catholic and thus presumably against abortion and same-sex marriage? I have no idea; I couldn’t find any peer-reviewed research on it. Going purely off gut instinct here and personal experience, I’m going to go ahead and guess that filling the fridge (and making that month’s rent and cell phone payments) are going to be slightly more important in the short-term than moral accountability in the afterlife. I personally know a few extremely financially well-off people with alternative lifestyles, and though there is a strong detriment to survivorship and marriage, they consistently vote conservative because that side favors lower taxes and fiscal responsibility – despite the fact that neither side has actually lowered taxes or appreciably reduced the debt in a very, very, very long time.
But I digress.
I have another thought for getting out of the funk on a personal level and limiting at least our sense of enslavement: telecommuting. What if we weren’t tethered to our office, and bound by common decency to wear pants to work? Arguably, there are some jobs you just can’t do from home: emergency services, fast food, elementary school teacher, or street-corner drug dealer (DO NOT take that last one seriously. It’s illegal. You’ll end up in jail or dead or both). But law (apart from court, obviously)? Accounting? The bulk of the financial sector? Medicolegal death investigators? That last one is just wishful thinking because I don’t have a take-home vehicle… and that’s what I do for a living – and in fact where I am right now as I type this. In my office, standing by for…
Speaking of task: how many of us spend time doing the rush-hour grind to and from The Grind? Redmond & Mokhtarain (2001) found a 1995 FHWA survey which revealed that 17.7% of the trips taken and 22.5% of the miles driven in the US are commutes to and from work, and that 52% of us think we commute too far. For me, I drive a truck. And it’s a big’un: four wheel drive, dual rear wheel, back seat big enough for a Single mattress (literally), weighs almost as much as three Toyotas, diesel engine, gets all of about 17 miles to the gallon on the highway, and could pull my house off the foundation if I hook it up right. And with a 17-mile commute to work through mixed city and rural state highway driving, I burn about three gallons round trip every day going to work. Thankfully, I work fewer days than normal jobs because I’m not on a nine-to-five shift. The average person commutes roughly 10.25 miles one-way to work (Moritz, 1997), and in traffic you’re looking at a LOT of time in traffic annually. With my 17-mile commute, I spend about 35 minutes one-way in Il Mostro (Italian for “the monster”, which is what I call my truck) – 364 times a year, which is 182 work days. Yes, I know most people work 260 days a year (5 days x 52 weeks, if they don’t take a vacation), but remember I work 12-hour shifts, so I work seven shifts in a pay period as opposed to the normal ten. At my rate, I spend 8.85 DAYS in my truck every year, just driving to work. Giuliano & Small (1993) found the average commute time hovering right around 22.5 minutes one-way (8.125 days per working year), so I’m just slightly above average…
Hey mom! Look! I’m ABOVE average! Oh, wait…
As opposed to stuffing ourselves into our little crushwagon econoboxes and slogging down the byways at half the speed of smell for 45 minutes a day, we could be telecommuting. Think about it: what if your commute to work involved nothing more than a trip to that spare bedroom your significant other uses to store excess junk? Maybe a stop in the kitchen for a quick mug of joe and a toaster pastry on the way, instead of grinding through the local fast food joint to snag some baco-eggo-muffin-esque half a million calorie thing and a pre-leaking foam cup of Caution: Hot Beverage that looks, smells, and tastes more like used Pennzoil than coffee. Fire up the computer, kick the phone ringer on, and you’re at work. No more hour-long routine to get yourself and your children (two-legged or four) ready and in their cage (or off to school). We could be using that extra time in permissible industries to increase productivity, as Fast Company suggests here:
Telecommuting shouldn’t necessarily add working hours to the day, although “four tens” has been shown to actually increase productivity. Kellogg famously said that shifting to the shorter week yielded increased profits and decreased overhead sufficient that, in the 1930s (the Great Depression), the company could “afford to pay as much for six hours as we formerly paid for eight”. Ashley Ellis has a great highlight of the four tens scheme here:
But as with all coins, there’s a flip side. Dembe, Erickson, Delbos, & Banks (2005) reveal that between 1987 and 2000, extra hours in the work day can account for as high as a 61% increased likelihood of workplace-related injury or sickness. Given that you’d be working at home, overtime technically isn’t “overtime” since you’d be blowing that time on your commute and getting ready – but the risk could still stand because you’re physically working the hours. And for those of us who’ve experienced true mental fatigue (as in “I feel like I haven’t slept in a week”), trust me: it sure feels like an injury, and takes almost as long to recover from.
Oddly enough, telecommuting was up 61% from 2005 to 2009, with over 4.9 million workers projected to be telecommuting by 2016 (Thompson, 2012). As she points out, that’s a drop in the bucket of the over 140 million-strong workforce, but 85% of the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For on the Over-1000 Employees list have telecommuting listed as a benefit. Mix in a decent salary, not having to spend the money on fuel, accruing less wear and tear on your personal vehicle, and the associated potential lower auto insurance rate (less driving means less risk exposure for your carrier), and it’s not hard to see why telecommuting is a desired perk. Oh, and we can throw in that setting up your home office is tax-deductible – with a savvy accountant, one could find deductions for a lot of stuff associated with a home office if your company isn’t paying for it (internet, a portion of your utilities commensurate with the square footage of your home office, cable if you have it at the office, etc.). Obviously, there’s a complication, because there are always complications. If you’re on a VA, FHA, or HUD mortgage, you may have stipulations in your mortgage which state plainly and clearly that you cannot use more than 10% of your habitable square footage as income-producing property (EG a home office or home-based small business) so if you’re going to do it, pick a small room. Pick the smallest room. And if you’re on a lease, it’s probably a good idea to check with your landlord to make sure there won’t be conflicts on that end, because nothing will gangland assassinate a telecommuting deal like missing a deadline because your building’s internet provider shut down for maintenance at 2 pm on a Friday afternoon (or you forgot to pay the bill).
So if you can manage to convince the boss to let you telecommute, you can take pride in the fact that you’re reducing your carbon footprint by not driving (http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/american-carbon-footprint), helping to ease pollution by staying out the traffic jams (Pant & Harrison, 2013), and saving your company space (and thus money, which they’ll like). Plus it gets you unleashed from the ball and chain, if not released from your shackles. Because, after all, the bills are still locks and our corporate masters still jiggle the keys in our faces.
Redmond LS & Mokhtarain PL (2001). The positive utility of the commute: modeling ideal commute time and relative desired commute amount. Transportation 28:2 (pp. 179-205). Springer.
Moritz WE (1997). Survey of North American bicycle commuters: Design and aggregate results. Transportation Research Record 1578 (pp. 91-101). DOI: 10.3141/1578-12
Guiliano G & Small KA (1993). Is the journey to work explained by urban structure? Urban Studies 30:9 (pp. 1485-1500). Sage. DOI: 10.1080/00420989320081461
Dembe AE, Erickson JB, Delbos RG, & Banks SM (2005). The impact of overtime and long work hours on occupational injuries and illnesses: New evidence from the United States. Occupational & Environmental Medicine 62:9 (pp. 588-597). BMJ. DOI: 10.1136/oem.2004.016667
Thompson K (2012). Working through telecommuting. Phi Kappa Phi Forum 92:2 (p. 23). Online. Retrieved 4/18/15 from http://search.proquest.com.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/docview/1020414835/fulltext/96E6F7748C9A4827PQ/1?accountid=13158
Pant P & Harrison RM (2013). Estimation of the contribution of road traffic emissions to particulate matter concentrations from field measurements: A review. Atmospheric Environment 77 (pp. 78-97). Elsevier. DOI: 10.1016/j.atmosenv.2013.04.028