As employers ban phone use while driving, long car commutes mean lower productivity
More and more companies ban employee use of cell phones while driving. Will these companies begin to view employees with long car commutes as less available and productive than other employees? Will this push more workers to take advantage of transit options?
Some companies still have a 9-to-5 culture and don't expect employees to be available outside those hours. With the ubiquity of cell phones, however, many people see commute time as potential work time. When conference calls go long, it's not uncommon to hear participants announce, "I've got to leave, but I'll rejoin this call from the road." Email-enabled smartphones have only increased this trend.
But driving while on the phone can be very dangerous, studies show. And juries have found corporations liable for traffic crashes caused by employees using cell phones for business purposes, even when neither the car nor the phone were issued by the company. Some awards from judges and juries have exceeded $20 million.
This started a trend of corporate bans on employee cell phone use while driving, which shows no sign of going away. Such bans could catch a lot of employees by surprise who count on working while driving. Many workers in Northern Virginia, where my software company is headquartered, justify long car commutes by the work they get done on the phone while driving.
When car commuters suddenly fall off the grid for 45 or 60 minutes each way, unable to notice urgent calls or to continue conversations from the road, will they be viewed as less flexible than their transit-commuting colleagues, especially as Metro finishes its project to add cell phone service for all carriers in all tunnels?
Drivers banned from using cell phones will find transit a better option to stay productive. When I'm on the Fairfax Connector bus and the Orange Line, I flip open my laptop and tether to my phone for internet access. Conversely, the few times I have driven to Tysons Corner, I have been frustrated by the time I wasted in the car.
We are considering a ban at our company, and fortunately my colleagues don't attach a stigma to transit commuters. But that could be because I am a co-founder of the company, and play a greater role in defining our workplace culture. Bosses and coworkers at other workplaces are known to roll their eyes at leaving during a meeting to catch a bus, while considering car breakdowns and traffic jams valid excuses.
Bans on phone use while driving could also affect decisions on corporate office locations, and on home purchases by employees and executives. Buying a home 45 minutes away from one's workplace will take on new consequences when you will lose 90 minutes of productivity per day.
Northrup Grumman selected a car-dependent suburban office park over Ballston for its DC-area headquarters in 2010, over the objections of younger employees who prefer transit. As corporations increasingly ban cell phone use while driving, the inability to communicate with employees immediately before and after work could discourage suburban, auto-dependent office relocations.
How would stereotypes be affected by such a ban at your workplace? Do you feel that your colleagues attach value judgments to car commuting vs transit commuting? Is the stigma on transit commuting limited to bus commuters in the suburbs?
The ability to stay connected on transit presents a clear advantage over isolated drivers. You might wish Metro would ban people who yell into their cell phones, but transit commuters can use their time on trains and buses to work safely.
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