Spotlight on long-distance commuters

The daily commute to and from the M4 corridor might feel like hell on earth to you, but spare a thought for the hardier souls who are prepared to get their passports stamped every morning simply to get to work on time.

Spurred on by cheap flights, more affordable housing and the wonders of the internet, thousands of UK workers are discovering that with a laptop, mobile and wireless broadband at their disposal, a virtual office in Dubrovnik can be just as effective as it is in Dundee.

According to a recent report from the Future Forum, as many as 1.5 million Britons will be working here but living overseas by 2016. Paris, Barcelona, Alicante and even Marrakech will be high on the Euro-traveller wish list.

Swipe and go

While the pioneering long-distance commuter may, at the moment, have to endure twice-daily security and passport checks, the report predicts that within a decade, airports will introduce new ‘swipe and go’ technology to help speed up the process.

Flying to work each day clearly won’t suit or be available to everyone – it’s a lifestyle more common among technology-led professionals, such as web designers, rather than admin or secretarial staff – so how should HR cope with the prospect of whole departments working in different time zones?

“Not everyone is going to up and leave and begin commuting from France or Spain,” says Sam Baker, head of employee relations at consulting firm Accenture UK. “Those who choose to do so will typically have the sort of job that allows for a great deal of flexibility.

“As long as they are able to come into the office when needed, and can keep in touch without difficulty, Euro-commuting is just one more stage in the drive for more flexibility at work,” she adds.

Transition time

A longer commute could even create a less stressful period at work. A second report – this time from the University of the West of England and the University of Lancaster – concludes that travelling to and from work actively encourages creative thought, relaxation and, above all, encourages the necessary mental transition from home life to work life and back again.

But if employees choose to endure a long commute outside their working day, it is crucial that the employer does not dictate how they spend that travel time, warns Baker.

“Using the journey to come up with new ideas may well work for some people, but we wouldn’t dream of telling people how to spend their travelling time.”

The facts: commuting

  • British commuters travel for longer than their European counterparts, at an average of 45 minutes per day.
  • Londoners commute more than the rest of the country, clocking up an average 255 hours a year.
  • Almost 50% of rail travel is undertaken by those in the top fifth of household incomes.

Download a copy of the Future Forum’s report here

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