The future of the workplace commute

‘The traffic was horrific getting in today’, ‘the train was running late again’, ‘there was a car stuck on the tram lines’. The commute into work can sometimes be a nightmare. But is there better way just around the corner, in the future?

David Quinn: BrightHR Social Media Manager

‘The traffic was horrific getting in today’, ‘the train was running late again’, ‘there was a car stuck on the tram lines’. The commute into work can sometimes be a nightmare and according to the TUC this figure has been steadily rising over the last few years (the average UK commute now stands at 56 minutes). But occasionally the pain isn’t that great, and when I say occasionally I really mean at very specific times of the year. The school holidays.

During these glorious golden periods the commute becomes a joy, in comparison to the usual torture anyway. People who never get in on time suddenly turn up hours before their actual start time. Everyone has a spring in their step. But just as they get into the new, speedier commute the schools go back and the nightmare begins all over again.

But it’s not just the time aspect that wrangles people, you’ve got the rising cost of petrol and trains, high property prices, the aging transport infrastructure and of course the environmental issues of everyone owning a car. So with all this negativity around the commute, why do we do it?

Yes, I know, we do it because if we didn't we wouldn’t get paid. Maybe the real question is: is there a better way?

Well maybe there is a better way. Just around the corner so to speak. In the future!

The driverless car

For many people the idea of driverless cars sounds like science fiction, something that is way down the line. But it’s already here. Companies such as Tesla, Google and the big automotive companies are all racing to develop the first true driverless car. I won't go into too much detail here as there are other people, and companies, that are far more qualified and have far more expertise in this area than me.

Of course, as with all technology, the initial cost for a driverless car will be a little prohibitive for most. But that's not to say you won't see the benefits filter down. Features such as lane assistance can already be found on the latest ‘more affordable’ models. But eventually the ‘full’ technology will be available to all, and after a little bit of an adjustment period even the steering wheel and controls may be a thing of the past. So with all this innovation how will the future of the commute change?

The big change?

At first the change isn't going to be that great. People will still commute to work as usual. They will just have more free time, as the technology will allow them to take their mind off the road, knowing, after a period of initial suspicion, that the car is driving itself. Once full driverless technology has been perfected and adopted by society, this free time will extend to the whole commute. More free time, sounds good, but it doesn’t sound that radical really.

The biggest change may come in how we commute. Instead of owning a car you may just call up a car, Uber style, and one in the local area will come and pick you up. There could be a carpool aspect to it where routes are calculated to pick up people in the same area who are going to a similar destination. By sharing the fare the price reductions will make this an even more appealing option.  

This future may be a little way off but the change is already starting to happen. Uber is already striking deals with car manufacturers to provide self driving cars: in September 2016 the company launched a fleet of Self-Driving taxis in Pittsburgh, USA. Ford has announced plans for an autonomous ride-sharing service and Tesla are planning on re-inventing the bus for the autonomous age.

Wider implications

Driverless cars have bigger implications than just how we get about; they will have a big impact on the industries we see today. Take for example the car industry. If on-demand travel really does take off it may become far more cost effective just to ‘pay as you go’ rather than buying a car. The car industry may have to adapt and run partly as an on-demand transportation company rather than just selling vehicles.

What will the future of the insurance industry look like once cars are fully automated? Safety will be improved dramatically compared to a human driver and crashes may become almost a thing of the past. If that is the case, will we still need insurance at all?

Will we even need to commute to work?

So the future of the commute all sounds great: less cost, more free time, no hassle. But in the future why would we even need to commute? Will we all be working from home and only travelling into the office on an ad hoc basis? If there’s an office at all!

The technology is already here to facilitate remote working. You can store your work documents on software such as Google Drive, communicate with anyone around the world with Skype and even book your work holidays through software such as BrightHR. And it might be happening already. A survey of business owners by Virgin Media Business predicted that 60 per cent of office-based employees will work regularly from home by 2022. Another survey, by Office Angels, found a third of employees think commuting will be unheard of by 2036.

So is the future of the commute that there is no commute at all?

 

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