Reading and sending emails during the daily commute “should count as work,” study argues

Time spent by employees reading and sending work-related emails during their daily commute should be classed as part of the working day, a new study has suggested.

In recent days, the University of West England has published an interesting study into how the emergence of smartphones and the ubiquity of free Wi-Fi on public transport has affected the email habits of workers in the UK.

Upon examining some 5,000 rail passengers over a 40 week period in 2016/17, most of whom were commuting in and out of Central London, researchers found that the majority of workers are completing unfinished tasks and catching up on work emails in their travel time.

It found that on average, 54 per cent of workers on the Birmingham to London train route were using free Wi-Fi in order to undertake work-related activities.

Interestingly, this figure rose to 60 per cent in instances where train operators were offering 125MB Wi-Fi as opposed to just 20MB Wi-Fi.

The study also found that many passengers were using mobile data to check and send work emails.

It argued that the digital age had created a “blurring of boundaries” between work and home life that needed to be urgently addressed.

Researcher Dr Juliet Jain said: “If travel time were to count as work time, there would be many social and economic impacts, as well as implications for the rail industry.

“It may ease commuter pressure on peak hours and allow for more comfort and flexibility around working times. However, it may also demand more surveillance and accountability for productivity.

She said that much discussion was needed to clear up “what constitutes work” and whether workplace cultures needed to change.

The concerns come shortly after business services group Rentokil Initial was ordered to pay one of its former employees a sum of €60,000 (£53,000) in France, after a Court found that the company had failed to respect the worker’s “right to disconnect” when out of office.

Currently, countries such as Norway see some commuters paid for travel time, which is freely recognised as part of the working day.

According to the University of West England, Britain should follow in Norway’s example.

However, critics of the university’s research have said that counting commuting time as ‘work’ would cause big problems for employers, who would have a lot to think about in terms of structuring pay, among other issues such as security.

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