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How is the landscape of commuting changing?

By Kasia Grobelny | 18 Apr 2014

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Commuting is just another part of everyday life for most Americans, and for many, it can be quite a journey. According to 2013 Census data, 8.1 percent of U.S. workers have commutes of 60 minutes or longer (10.1 percent in California), and nearly 600,000 full-time workers are “mega commuters,” traveling 90 minutes, 50 miles or more for their jobs.

For more than a year, John Barbour, chief executive officer of LeapFrog Enterprises, Inc., was one of those mega commuters; traveling regularly from his home in Rye, N.Y. to the educational toy company’s Emeryville, Calif.-based headquarters.

However, Barbour seems to have grown weary of the super commute.

According to the company’s proxy statement, Barbour’s compensation for commuting expenses totaled $198,059 in 2011, decreasing to a mere $8,195 in 2012.

While the 2011 expenses covered $150,000 in compensation for travel and temporary housing assistance, payments for temporary housing in the amount of $15,869 and $18,000 in relocation expenses, the statements for 2012 told a different tale, covering only his annual life insurance premiums and 401k contributions.

The company confirmed that Barbour had relocated to the Bay Area but declined to state the exact reasons for Barbour’s move. They did add that though he does now reside in the Bay Area, he still frequently travels back to New York.

“He has a strong focus on the company and for now chose to live closer to our headquarters,” said Kathryn Green, public relations representative for LeapFrog.

Barbour is not alone in wanting to be closer to his job. Census data shows that the national average for commuting is a reasonable 25.5 minutes.

“From what I’ve seen over the years, travel time usually is a bigger ‘deal breaker’ over money being the ‘deal breaker’ when choosing a company to work at,” said Jason Lohrentz, recruiting manager at Shopkick, a shopping app for smartphones that offers customers rewards for walking into stores. “What we’re really talking about is your amount of free time outside of work,” he added.

Data from the 2010 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey showed that long commutes have negative effects on workers’ wellbeing. After conducting telephone interviews with 173,581 employed adults over the age of 18, Gallup found that these effects (including neck and back problems, high cholesterol and obesity) are present among both full- and part-time workers and across varying ages, education and income levels.

To help ease the stress of commuting on workers, many companies offer a variety of alternatives to traditional office working environments. Notable technology companies including Google, Apple, Facebook, Yahoo and others provide free transportation for their workers via Wi-Fi-equipped buses.

Remote work is another tool companies are using to combat long commutes.

“Companies like Skype seem to be pretty relaxed on remote work,” Lohrentz said. “And that makes sense, their product is all about connecting people from two different locations with technology.”

Though Lohrentz noted that this type of setup works well for some people as well as certain work environments and projects, he did add that there are certain nuances to office life that can never be replicated with remote work.

“You don’t work in the same building with your co-workers,” he said. “Things like random conversations, interactions, fast moving decisions and that spontaneity that causes new ideas might be less likely to happen in a pure ‘remote’ work environment.”

With technology constantly changing the landscape of the working world — with everything from video conferencing to telepresence robots that could come into the office for you — it’s unclear what the future holds for commuting time for workers.

“It’s not a black-and-white answer,” Lohrentz said. “‘The culture of the company really dictates how a person commutes.”

Homepage image courtesy of Flickr, Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious.

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