Photo: Sutterstock.com

How autonomous vehicles could reduce your office working hours

Technology and Business

Phil Brown

Phil Brown

3-03-2020

       

We’ve all been there. It’s a freezing cold day and the daily commute to work is coming up. You leave the house and turn onto the motorway, only to find an endless line of red lights. This is when you start to question: ‘is this really worth my time?’

 

The daily commute is unsurprisingly a big one– especially in winter. But what if we could factor our commutes into working hours without any lost time?

work from car
Image: Shutterstock.com

Office on wheels

 

Flexible employers may already allow employees extra time to complete a longer commute, or to count the time travelling off-site as part of their working day. In most cases, however, employers expect their employees to commute in their own time.

 

Many employees argue that they can turn up to work later if they take the train, pointing to the fold down table in front of them as a makeshift workspace where they can tackle emails or make calls.

 

But even the ‘office on rails’ concept has its drawbacks. If you can’t get a seat (very common on busy routes), then the laptop is likely staying in the bag. And what if the Wi-Fi isn’t working, or the noisy group of schoolkids in the next seats are making that vital phone call impossible?

 

This is where autonomous vehicles could offer a different workspace.

 

Instead of the noisy, packed carriage without any free power sockets or Wi-Fi that costs the same as a week’s phone bill, picture a quiet, cosy pod where workers can get stuck in without distractions; inside a driverless vehicle.

 

With no requirement to drive, employees can divert their full attention to work. Smart connectivity and screens could boost productivity and a passenger-focused seat layout could see unnecessary steering wheels, gear sticks and bucket seats swapped out for tables and adjustable upright chairs.

 

And one of the biggest problems we’ve already touched on, the traffic jams that turn our cities into gigantic car parks twice a day, could potentially disappear too. Unpredictable stop-start traffic and human-error induced accidents could disappear completely if multiple autonomous vehicles were able to connect and avoid each other more successfully.

autonomous working on a train
Image: shutterstock.com

Better productivity with autonomous vehicles

 

Then there’s time. If a driver commutes for one hour twice a day, and this time was incorporated into their working hours, then that’s two hours of free time that suddenly becomes available - e.g. to spend more time with your loved ones or to gawp at photos on Instagram.

 

For metropolitan workers, the other big opportunity is extending city limits considerably if commutes can be lengthened without detriment to employees. In Los Angeles, one of the least-dense cities in the world, rows of single-floor homes make for endless sprawl. Instead of spending their lives crawling to work from the suburbs, employees could enjoy living further up the coast or in a smaller community out of the city, negating the need for ‘dormitory developments’ designed to be simply somewhere to commute to the office from. The implications on rent or mortgages would also be huge, with commuters able to take advantage of cheaper living costs further out of the city.

 

Cracks in the autonomous driving concept

Despite the perceived advantages of taking away the need to concentrate on the road at all times, there are still a few kinks that mean the stress-free commute isn’t quite the perfect concept.

 

Many organisations still enjoying casting a watchful eye over their employees, feeling that a workforce under surveillance is happier or more productive. Asking to turn up at the office at 10am or later instead of 9am may not be a problem for some, but for others it’s a big no. Plus, there are professions where work simply cannot be done remotely, making ‘working from car’ a pointless perk.

 

Then there are the physical implications. If you’ve ever tried to read a book while being driven by someone else, then you may have experienced motion sickness. Our brains and central nervous systems don’t enjoy the feeling of movement when they believe they are in a stationary environment, so trying to focus on a screen could end up becoming impossible without some nausea – a problem that’s already being discussed.

 

And finally, there’s also the potential for overworking. Losing this valuable headspace could have the opposite of the desired effect, with two extra hours lost each day to extra working.

 

Whether a blessing or a burden, clawing back any ‘dead time’ taken up by driving will certainly revolutionise the way we plan our days, even outside of work. But there’s another, more important factor.

 

Despite the fines and warnings that come with using our phones, 25% of drivers admit to physically using their smartphones when the car is moving – a deadly statistic.

 

 

man in car illegally checking his phone
Image: shutterstock.com

With so many of us willing to take the risk, especially younger drivers (3 in 5 under 24-year-olds admit to using their phones), handing over the concentration to a machine that won’t stop looking at the road when it hears a ping can only be a good thing.

 

So, next time you’re sitting in traffic, wondering if it’s all worth it, imagine if you were able to tackle some of your work in the car on way to work. Would that make your working life easier by the time you got to your desk? It could work the other way around too, with autonomous vehicles giving you that ‘golden hour’ to get stuff done on the way home before you even reach your front door. Then, your real life can begin!

 

Do you think driverless cars would improve your work-life balance? Join the discussion in the comments section below.

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