Commuting Time and Travel Reimbursement

What is commuting?

Commuting refers to a worker's travel from home to work and then back home. Commuting is one of the primary activities, attached to a job, but not necessarily part of it. Travel, to and from work to home, takes our most productive time and is one of the difficult things to manage. With overcrowding of cities, commuting time has constantly increased. Workers spend time and/or money to reach their workplace; therefore saving both time and money is a usual concern for these workers.

Is commuting time paid?

Normal commuting time is not hours of work and thus not paid. However, if a worker is ordered to perform substantial work during traveling/commuting, this will be considered his work and duly paid. If an employer restricts an employee's ability to use his commuting time, as he himself would have desired, especially when that employee is traveling through an employer provided transport, such time has to be paid for by the employer. If an employer does not want to pay for commuting time, he must clearly tell his employees not to perform office related work, like using blackberry to respond to official email messages, during commuting hours. Commuting to work in a company owned vehicle does not make a worker eligible for compensation. However, if a worker performs some work, during this time, which is related to his principal work activity, he has to be paid. Similarly, if a worker is transporting other employees to or from the work site (as a driver) or have to pick up supplies or equipment to or from work; these activities are part of working hours and thus paid activities.

What are the international examples in Commuting?

Commuting time is also a measure of how long it takes workers to reach their workplace and then back home. This commute could be by foot, car, bicycle, bus or train. According to a study, world average commuting time is 80 minutes. Thailand is considered to have the longest commuting in the world while Malawi has shortest commuting time. A 2007 Gallup Survey (in USA), indicated that in a typical day, workers' average round trip commute takes 46 minutes. This means that average commuting time is more than 150 hours a year which is also double than average two working weeks of vacation time (80 hours). Similarly, according to UK Office of National Statistics (2011), 75% of the workers take around 1 hour for a round trip from home to work. However, commuting time is much longer for those living in London. 

What about road rage during daily commutes?

According to a survey by Career Builder (USA), 58% of employees experience road rage while traveling to and from work. Incidents of road rage are more common among workers with longer commutes. Road rage is associated with long commutes and running late. If you plan ahead by taking some extra time to reach office and request flexible work arrangements e.g., starting your work at off-peak hours, you can avoid road rage.


What is the alternative to long commutes?

In order to avoid long commutes, two alternatives of staggered hours and compressed workweeks have been used worldwide. Under Staggered Hours schemes, also called block-working arrangements, different starting and finishing times are fixed for different categories of workers. Once, these times have been determined by employer and employees, these can't be changed. These schemes are a way of easing problems of traffic congestion and overcrowded/overburdened public transport system during peak hours. If workers are allowed different starting and finishing times: there will be lesser traffic congestion thereby decreasing commuting time; there will be more rational usage of public transport system; and workers will feel less stress. Staggered Hours schemes are used widely in European countries like Italy, Sweden and Slovenia.

As for the Compressed Workweek Schemes (CWWs), the same number of (weekly) working hours is scheduled over fewer days thereby resulting in longer working days. For example, a 40 hour work week is usually worked at 8 hours a day and 5 days a week. These 40 hours can also be worked over 4 days (instead of 5); however daily working hours will increase to 10 hours a day. Now if that worker has completed 40 hours in 4 days, he can take 3 days of rest. Compressed Workweeks (CWWs) can also consist of higher than usual number of consecutive working days. In some industries like Oil and Gas industries, workweeks of longer duration i.e. longer than 5 days are introduced followed by the same number of rest days. For example, in Oil and Gas industries in Africa and Middle East, period of 21, 28 or 35 working days are followed by corresponding periods of rest. These schemes are used when there is long distance between workplace and workers' homes. In order to avoid these long commutes, e.g. European workers working in Middle East, CWWs are used. Incidence of CWWs is rather small when compared with staggered hours schemes. A study conducted in India shows that 18 of the 56 firms surveyed during the process have CWWs and these arrangements cover less than 15% of an organizations workforce. 

What is telework or working from home?

Teleworking or Telecommuting is the redesigning of work where workers work away from the workplace for a period of time. Some teleworkers workers work only from home/satellite office while others alternate between home and workplace e.g., working three days from home in a normal week. Telework is the work without any direct supervision. Teleworkers can either be employees or self-employed people.

Workers perform this work mainly through extensive use of information and telecommunication technologies. Telecommuting also supports green economy initiatives by reducing commuter traffic, pollution emissions. A survey by Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) indicated that 40% or more of employers now offer telecommuting and 17% of the workers now telecommute either part or whole of the week. Figures in 2008 show that in the United States and European Union, around 16% of employees telecommuted for either part or all of their week.

What are the advantages or disadvantages of telework?

The Economist reported a 2008 study in US showed that 33 million Americans have jobs that can be done from home. If these workers started to telecommute, oil imports would drop by a quarter. This telecommuting would save so many hours that each worker could take an extra 25 days of holiday per year.

Advantages of Telework for Employers

       i.         Less workspace is required and other company costs are reduced (these costs are reduced by a half when workers telecommute)

     ii.         Teleworkers don't involve relocation expenses

    iii.         Cheap and high quality labor is employed through telework

    iv.         Lower expenses on office space and utilities

      v.         Employee morale/job satisfaction increases, although employees may be working longer hours

    vi.         Reduced absenteeism

   vii.         Increased productivity

Advantages of Telework for Employees

       i.         Monetary savings (commuting, office clothing, etc.)

     ii.         Reduced stress as there is no commuting involved

    iii.         Increased flexibility to balance work and family demands

    iv.         Increased control over work

      v.         Greater ability to participate in the labor force

Disadvantages for Employers

       i.         Delay of work due to communication lapses

     ii.         No monitoring system

    iii.         Cost of appropriate home office

    iv.         Company liability in case of an accident (workers compensation issues)

Disadvantages for Employees

       i.         Less social interaction and as a result career stagnation

     ii.         Exclusion from office decisions

    iii.         Family interference during working hours

    iv.         Workspace is taken away from living space

How common is the telework in the international labor market?

According to a special report from World At Work on Telework in USA (2011), the total teleworkers (employee+contract teleworkers) who work at least one day a month from home is 26.2 million in USA. Another study in US by Rane (2011) also observed that larger businesses are more likely to offer telework option to their employees. A report by Lister (2011) on telework in Canada also pointed out that 40% of jobs in Canada are compatible with telework, however only a meager 11% indicated that they worked from home.

In UK, around 13% of workforce is engaged in telework however most of these are self-employed. In the European countries, Scandinavians have the highest percentage of teleworkers, bordering on 70-80%.

A 2008 study about Japan indicates that 15% of Japanese workers are teleworking more than 8 hours in a week. Similarly, 12.6% of Australian workers are teleworking more than 8 hours in a week. Moreover, most of the software developers in India are employed as teleworkers.

(Statistics quoted here are taken from Deloitte Access Economics report on Telework)

What are different types of teleworkers?

Telework is the work done from a remote location, either as an employee or contract worker/self employed person. This definition describes two fundamental types of teleworkers i.e., employee teleworkers (working with the organization on full or part time basis) and  self employed contract workers (engaged with an organization as independent contractor or on self employed basis).

According to the Deloitte report, telework may be implemented in one of the many ways.

Hot desking.....worker is working most of time from remote location but also spends some time at main office. No permanent desk is assigned to the employee

Hoteling.....similar to hot desking however workspace is reserved.

Telework centre.....workstations or other office facilities are provided for use by workers from different organizations. It has been abandoned with the advent of high speed broadband and smart phones

Mobile Teleworkers..... who work on the move and extensively use their smart phones.

Day Extenders......who work from home during evenings or weekends on ad hoc basis


What are the characteristics of teleworkers?

According to a World at Work report (although focusing on US but its findings can be generalized), most of the teleworkers today are males, around 40 years and have college degrees. A good percentage even has post graduate degrees. Similarly, this report finds that home is still the most common place for telework although hotels and satellite centers are also gaining ground. 


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