Traffic time

Published 04 April 2012 09:39, Updated 05 April 2012 04:15

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Gen Xers have 394 fantastic reasons to support the roll-out of the national broadband network. That’s how many days of your life are lost to the average commute to and from work of half an hour each way.

And the longer the commute, the worse it gets, with an hour-long commute each way costing you two years of you life – that’s without sleep time – two years of your waking life sitting down, alone.

It’s not so bad if you happen to live in an area well served by public transport because at least some of this time can be spent reading and it’s not so bad if you’re in an area flat enough to allow you to cycle to and from the office. But if you live on Sydney’s northern beaches, or in the eastern suburbs, you face some of the most frustrating commuting times in the world (50 minutes to cover 15km) and you waste two years of your life doing little other than clogging up the roads.

According to the latest poll from BusinessWise survey from the NRMA, almost half of the 600 businesses surveyed reported increased congestion is costing up to $5000 a year, an increase on 20 per cent over the same survey taken in 2011. In cities where congestion is particularly bad, companies are taking smart measures like staggering arrival times and many of those surveyed are calling for more and better roads to reduce commute times. But this will only fan the flames that could be extinguished if we instead focused on better work practices.

If businesses and Gen Xers spent less time whinging about poor roads, threw their support behind the roll-out of the NBN, the coalition would in turn be forced to rethink its opposition to the project and we could all look forward to less time in traffic and more time actually getting down to work, albeit over the internet, from home.

Every time I bring up this suggestion, it gets pooh-poohed by a younger generation of office-bound up-and-comings who are still in the “need to be seen to be doing something” phase of their careers and by a whole coterie of older workers who “need to see others doing stuff” in some bizarre sham of productivity.

Sure it doesn’t work for face-to-face service providers such as teachers but it’s not teachers clogging up the roads, it’s lawyers, accountants, receptionists, engineers, designers, programmers, architects and the odd journalist, all of whom could complete 90 per cent of their tasks from home.

Anyone whose spent several years working from home, or working according to flexible arrangements where their productivity is measured by outcomes rather than presence, knows the value of the internet and can appreciate the difference a reliable fibre optic connection makes.

But successful telecommuting does require good-quality real-time face to face contact, which in turn requires good quality fibre connections.

We know we can do it because we’ve all spent the past decade changing the way we spend down time. Oddly enough we’re spending more time than every talking to each other and socialising but less time in transit to attend social events. Why? Because we’re doing it over the internet. We’re Skyping and Facebooking and tweeting our friends and family, and yes sorry to disappoint the naysayers, these interactions are MORE meaningful because they’re being carried out with the people we cherish, not the ones who happen to live in the neighbouring suburb.

So why is it that business can’t seize the opportunity presented by web-based communication and give Gen Xers back the six months of their life their going to spend in traffic over the remaining 20 years of their careers.

I wish had the time to investigate further but unfortunately I need to leave my office to spend half an hour commuting, so I’ll have to throw the question back to you. Why don’t you change the way you do business so you can work more and travel less?

Do you agree? Write and tell me your views.

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