TED Conversations

Jamil El-Imad

Research Fellow, Imperial College London

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Why do we travel to work every day?

Why do we travel to work?
Why are countries investing billions in renewable energy when today we have a technology that can save the environment quicker, cheaper and more effective. What is it? It is the Information Communication Technology (ICT). Travelling to work was required when most workers were material workers. Today most of us are knowledge workers yet we are still organised with factory principles. Commuting time is ‘wasted time’ as it is financially non-productive. In the UK more than £260 million-worth of working time is spent every single day travelling to and from work not to mention the pollution and health costs. Equally problematic is the social impact of long commutes restricting family time.
What can be done? Information Communication Technology ‘ICT’ has evolved beyond our imagination, yet the application of ICT has lagged behind the evolution. Organisations are all dependant on technology to conduct business and manage their operation. However the majority have not organised their work place effectively and utilised the efficiencies that can be had from radical ICT deployments. The Human Resource (HR) function in business has failed to keep up with the changing ways of organising the work place through the use of efficient ICT. HR should define the various professional roles and set an efficiency benchmark in measuring the fulfilment of these roles between the work and none-work place, using ICT as the enabling technology.
What can Governments do? The pollution taxes that are being introduced to industry do not consider this fundamental aspect of pollution – ‘Travel To Work’. Companies could disclose the aggregate of their workforce’s work related travel. Low scoring businesses could receive a tax incentive or tradable carbon credits. In summary, I propose the introduction of a ‘Travel to Work’ carbon reduction policy. Such a policy will help dramatically in reducing carbon emissions, improves the lifestyle of people and help to give more time to family and parenthood.

Topics: a better world
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    Nov 15 2011: Firstly, I don't think that most people are 'knowledge workers'.

    Secondly, I think most companies have taken advantage of technological advances and reduced employee travel in the following ways:
    1) Telepresence, videopresence, office communicators and conference calls - many companies reduced international travel by encouraging their employees to set up virtual meetings
    2) Work from home - as a result of space constraints in offices, I think a lot of companies have introduced 'work from home' schemes whereby employees work some days of the week from their homes
    3) Geographical spread of expertise - the Internet has made it possible to find experts in virtually any field, virtually anywhere; this means that it more likely to find an expert in a city/country or online, reducing the need for commute
    4) Travel to Work schemes - many employers, especially in agglomerated cities such as London, encourage Cycle to Work schemes
    5) Doing business online - if the internet hasn't changed an area yet, it will do it in the near future; but most industries have now shifted their presence into the online space, fully removing the need to travel

    Thirdly, I think it is somewhat important to have the 'human touch' of team work and real-life conversations. Increasingly, we are stuck in conference calls and we correspond to our seniors via email.

    Lastly, I fully agree that travel time to work should take less and be more efficient. However, I think that it's a matter of making it more sustainable so that we can dramatically reduce carbon emissions, improve the lifestyle of people and help give more time to family and parenthood.
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      Nov 15 2011: A 100 years ago 95% of all USA workers were material workers and 5% were knowledge. Today, 60% are knowledge workers.

      The advances you listed are valid Ecaterina and I agree there has been progress but not sufficient, in my view, and mainstream. Very few companies are taking full advantage of the ICT capabilities that we have today.

      I agree with Deepak Chopra who said; 'No problem will ever be solved at the level of consciousness at which it was created'
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    Nov 13 2011: There is a management issue to consider. We do not as yet have an established habit of managing people who work remotely, and many managers feel that it is too much of a problem to manage remote workers. Until remote management is seen as an essential management competency there will be lost opportunities for remote working.
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      Nov 15 2011: I agree Anne that management issues will have to be considered along side a radical rethink of the business workflow.
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        Nov 15 2011: We need to think of technology as an enabler, not the solution. The technology allows design of theoretically better ways of working, but like any form of business change, it cannot be implemented in isolation from the people issues. If the people needed to do the work don't buy in to the technical solution it will never work.
        • Nov 17 2011: From what im seeing, People will have no choice in "buying in" to the technical solution. I Work for sprint and in the phone industry were already pretty much forcing people into technology that they don't want. Company's are getting rid of the basic phones and pushing towards smart phones for their productivity. Company's like Sony Ericsson are refusing to make basic phone. So everyone should just embrace they technology before its just pushed on them.

          Now for the management thing. Management is going to have to change from a control system to an assist and trust system. They need to give a detail of what they need done for the week and trust that the employee to do it. It may even increase productivity. Who says the employee wouldn't finish a weeks worth of stuff in two day. And if that's the case and more employees finish a weeks worth of stuff they would be able to spend a lot more time at home with their family.

          So not only would not driving to work. have an effect on the enviroment, it would also have potential to strengthen the family life and may even lead to less divorces and longer marriages.
  • Nov 13 2011: Some businesses are required by law to be in a certain location or at a set distance away from residential areas. I assume you would not want rocket testing or hazardous materials located near a school for example.

    In addition, personnel physically located on site are required to complete some of these jobs or maintain a secure environment.

    Insisting on or creating more regulations will not eliminate the fact that some jobs need people to commute. These polices, like a lot of other well meant polices, will probably do more harm than good.
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    Nov 17 2011: Actually, with smart phones, this tends to be a change individuals have embraced before corporates, so in that context, use of a technical solution is catching up on the way people want to work.

    As to management, there is another option. Most managers expect to manage people and because of that they want those people visible to them and under their control. Much of the work that can be carried out remotely can be handled by managing the output rather than the people. If someone is paid to do a 5 day week, it's reasonable for an employer to ask them to do more if they can finish the work in 2 days. If they are paid to produce certain results, then it shouldn't matter how long it takes them to do it. But that's not employment, it's a very different relationship and one that needs a very different set of management skills.
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    Nov 13 2011: It is easier for Mohamed to travel to the mountain, than the mountain to travel to Mohamed.