Emailing On Your Commute? That’s Work, A New Study Says

If you use your commute to catch up on work email, that time "should be counted as part of the working day," according to a new study by researchers who analyzed thousands of commuters' online habits.

"If travel time were to count as work time, there would be many social and economic impacts," said Juliet Jain, one of the academics from the University of the West of England who surveyed several thousand commuters on trains in and out of London.

"Many respondents expressed how they consider their commute as time to 'catch up' with work, before or after their traditional working day," according to a summary of the study. "This transitional time also enabled people to switch roles, for example from being a parent getting the kids ready for school in the morning to a business director during the day."

The study quotes a working mother named Katheryn saying, "It's really important to my sanity that I can get work done on the train. I am a busy mum and I rely on that time, so I can get things done."

Another commuter, Andrew, told the researchers, "It's dead time in a way so what it allows me to do is finish stuff and not work in the evenings."

The study notes that while work rules vary around the world, some commuters in Norway are already "able to count travel time as part of their working day."

The findings on workers' use of smartphones and other devices to stay plugged in highlight the importance of providing Wi-Fi to commuters, according to the academics, who presented their study Thursday at the Royal Geographical Society. To collect the data, they focused on two train lines that boosted the amount of free Wi-Fi they offered. On the Birmingham to London line, 60 percent of commuters connected to the enhanced network.

The results hint at what are likely to be increasingly complicated work-life discussions, in which employees and their bosses debate what qualifies as "work" and where the line between personal and professional time should be drawn.

Discussing the results in a news release, Jain said, "It may ease commuter pressure on peak hours and allow for more comfort and flexibility around working times. However it may also demand more surveillance and accountability for productivity."

In addition to potential ramifications for mass transit that the British researchers highlighted, the idea of claiming commuting time on the clock could also appeal to workers who use other means of travel.

Take, for instance, people who rely on ride-share companies to get to their jobs. And the discussion seems certain to widen in the near future, to include a looming wave of self-driving cars that — in theory, at least — promises to free up more travel time for drivers.

As for rail commuters, the researchers said their work shows it's important that trains "offer a good working environment including tables, power, space and good continuous connectivity for internet and phone calls."

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