Travelling to work each day is a major headache for many people.  Time lost in traffic gridlock and its resulting pollution are important societal problems which impact on the daily quality of life for millions of people in major cities around the world. 

Could increased recognition of the ability of staff to sometimes work from home be a positive long-term change resulting from the lock-downs countries across the globe have endured over the past few weeks?  Flexibility could be a win-win for economies, businesses and many individuals. 

Parents are one group that could stand to benefit from increased flexible work options.  The amount of precious family time lost to sitting in traffic is a major consideration for many parents, but living close to work can be expensive.

Many fathers I know lament the amount of time spent away from their young children each day, some of which is spent sitting in traffic.  During New Zealand’s lockdown they have enjoyed the ability to see their children throughout the day and be around to help out more at busy times of the morning and evening. 

Could just one or two days continue to be from home?  Imagine how many fewer cars that might mean on the congested roads.

Many women of young children I know currently see their most important societal role as that of a mother, but still wish to do some part-time work either out of financial necessity or to maintain a career they wish to go back to at some point.  To have the option to do at least some of their work flexibly from home makes a huge difference to the viability of working at all. 

The viability of flexible work options is surely something businesses are now more willing to acknowledge.  Many employees have proven their ability to work productively from home.  Businesses have been forced to make the use of distance communication technology such as Zoom common-place for all staff, many of whom have been bemused by their sudden ability to have meetings in their pyjamas. 

While my husband and I chose our house for its proximity to a train which gets us quickly in to the city (precisely because long hours spent in traffic while we have a young family is not an attractive proposition to us), most New Zealanders drive to work.  In fact, apparently nearly 70 percent commute in a private or company car, according to the 2018 Census. Thus, cars are a major contributor to pollution.

According to WSP UK sustainability director David Symons the flexibility of working from home is one easy step companies can take to both increase employee well-being and help the environment at the same time:

“Much of the information around the benefits of working from home centre on flexible working and increased wellbeing of employees, which are very important… It’s exciting to see that our data shows it can also be good for the environment.”

Flexibility does not have to mean lost productivity for business owners.  In fact, many people are much more productive when they don’t feel tied to a desk, but are instead focused on efficiently getting what needs to be done, done. University of Otago researcher, John Pickering, says that many people are surprised that they are actually much more productive working at home. 

Victoria University researcher Dr Sarah Proctor-Thomson studied the impact on staff of working from home after the Christchurch earthquake.  Her findings indicate that most people prefer a hybrid model, with some time at home and some time in the office each week.    

Overall, it seems that the environment, families, businesses and the economy could all benefit from increased flexibility to work from home some of the time.  Surely it is a proposition worth seriously thinking about.

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...