Monday 22 December 2014

Working less and more flexibly is desirable and a key to going car-free

Summary: Rethinking the purpose and desirability of conventional jobs is the key to eliminating car-dependent or miserable work commutes. Indeed, if you subtract the work commute, many more households could reduce or eliminate their car ownership. Logically then, there is a pathway for many households to follow, whereby reducing the number of work commutes and inflexible work constraints (e.g. being at work each day by a set time) enables alternatives to driving and car ownership to become feasible. This post will provide examples of how working less or more flexibly provides significant opportunities to reduce car ownership/use or make cycling and walking feasible options.

Flickr CC by 2.0 - Robert Couse-Baker

Related Posts:
> See the commuting category of this blog.
> See the lifestyle choices category of this blog.
> Why Mr Money Mustache's biggest secret of financial freedom is to ride a bike

1. Owning and running cars is really expensive, so aim to escape the trap of working more to fund greater car ownership/use - which is often primarily necessitated by more work destinations or trips
- This blog provides extensive details showing how expensive it is to own and run a car. These are well-established facts provided by sources like motoring organisations, yet most car owners are blind to the true costs and downsides. Consequently, they see car ownership as a necessity and life-enabler rather than something it is desirable to eliminate in order to achieve a low-cost, healthier and more fulfilling life. Until you arrive at this latter perspective you won't have the motivating reasons to make these changes.

- As just one example, a study done on commuting costs to the city centre for Australia's main cities concluded the savings were around $3,000 if the car was just left at home and $6,000-$11,000 if the car was sold. Yet, perversely, many households are stuck in a cycle of working more to fund more car ownership/use because of their work commutes.

The Urbanist / CRC Rail Innovation Southern Cross Uni

- Unnecessary car expenses throughout their lifetime is the most debilitating financial and lifestyle trap affecting most people. It really is a case of people driving to work and thus working to drive - which is crazy when driving is so counterproductive to their likely, real values and goals. See: Why Mr Money Mustache's biggest secret of financial freedom is to ride a bike

The real costs of commuting by car are insanely high
Spend $85-230/week more on housing if you get rid of your car
My calculated benefits of cycling for transport

2. Most people's current jobs are about earning income and this isn't how they'd spend their time if earning money was unnecessary. Hence, you should aim to minimise time spent on work you do primarily for the income - especially if away from home
- In 1928 the economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that by 2028 the efficiency of meeting human needs would be so improved that no one would need to worry about making money. In an essay called "Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren," Keynes predicted that people would work about three hours a day, and even this would be more labour than was necessary. For most of the 20th century, it was common for people thinking about the future to envision life without much work being necessary to afford to meet one's needs.

- This doesn't mean people wouldn't choose to be productively engaged, just that if largely free of having to work for income, they'd choose to focus on their own goals, projects and meeting needs in their local communities. Most would certainly aim to eliminate unnecessary, car-dependent, daily commutes to go work far away for someone else's interests. To simplify the equation: more time spent in income-maximising work away from home = more consumption + more car use = a higher cost of living = being time poor, lacking self-sufficiency and purchasing your needs as a service.
It is an ideal, all the way from Keynes to Scandinavia, that as our productivity increases, instead of matching it with needless consumption, we should pare back working hours and instead spend time with our families, or learning the violin, or … you know … reading. Indeed, this is as close as you'd get to a capitalist vision of utopia, the idea that we'd reach perfect self-actualisation – accomplished, erudite, rested, always available to the people we loved – not by ripping up the system and starting again, but by maximising our efficiency and output.
The Guardian: Why women part-timers should be full-time ball-breakers
- Mr Money Mustache is a popular blogger about voluntary simplicity and financial freedom who famously retired from needing to earn income at the age of 30. This is how he and his family choose to spend their time:
We spend most of our time at home, a place which I built from the ground up with the valuable helping hands of a few friends. We do our own cooking and cleaning and of course maintenance. Entertaining, creating things, stories and music and hosting a neverending stream of fun guests. Even my gym, workshop, and office are right here in the same spot. None of this is done because this is a cheap way to live, but because it’s a rich and efficient way to get in touch with all the things that make a human happy. We could go out and get faint approximations of these same services by driving around constantly to various cities and manage to spend more, but why the hell would we do this?
Mr Money Mustache: If You Think This is About Extreme Frugality, You’re Missing The Point
> The New Yorker: No time
> The Guardian: Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time – review
> The Guardian: Why work more? We should be working less for a better quality of life
> Mr Money Mustache: The Tyranny of Having a Real Job

3. Income-maximising work is the major cause of undesired trips and car ownership/use
- Once you rethink work that is primarily aimed at maximising monetary income, you realise how different your chosen productive activities would be if free of having to maximise income. They'd be based in or around your home and eliminate long commutes and the necessity of family members being car-dependent. Many highly productive activities (e.g. looking after family members, educating children, sharing and exchanging skills) would not involve money and would revolve around home, family/friends and your community.

- For example, families wouldn't choose to put their young children in childcare for so many days per week if they weren't driven to seek income-maximising work outside of home and that required continuous physical presence for an entire day far from where they lived. Instead, it would be more common to want to work from home or at least close to home and to drop off children nearby for short periods (1-3hrs) when necessary, or take part in shared, neighbourhood child-minding that enabled part-time, flexible, local work. For many people who do computer/indoor work, they would prefer to flexibly schedule this work at or near home when their children are occupied or even asleep. Their preferred schedules would certainly not be a continuous 8+ hour stretch far from home during the prime period their children are awake.
> NY Times: Job Satisfaction vs. a Big Paycheck

4. For two-income, two-car families using childcare, there is great potential for significant reductions in working hours by dropping to one work commute per day
- This is typically explained with the parent having the lower income (often the woman) staying at home, thus the household saves on childcare and the car-related costs of one commute which often makes up for almost all of the loss in take-home pay. However, if possible, sharing child caring duties is even smarter with both parents working part-time and thus also retaining their careers and financial independence. Mr Money Mustache explains the standard financial calculations involved:
Right now, you earn $75,000 before tax or 45% of your family’s gross pay. Since you listed take-home pay at $7500, let’s assume you are bringing in $3400 of it. Out of that, the following monthly costs might be byproducts of your job:
Gas and direct/indirect car costs for almost 2000km/month of driving around in a van: $1,000
Parking: $95
Daycare: $1200
Convenience foods and services that show up in your grocery and miscellaneous bills: $200
Total: $2495
This leaves only about $1000 per month of “profit” from your job. So, including commuting and shuttling kids around to child care, you are spending about 250 hours a month to earn $1,000 – or four bucks an hour. If you can think of better things to do than working for well under half of Manitoba’s minimum wage, you should quit immediately.
Mr Money Mustache: Case Study: Average Everyday Complainypants Seeks Redemption
- There are good reasons why Mr Money Mustache is one of the world's most popular personal finance blogs. It's because he explains simply, bluntly and consistently why things people take for granted (e.g. having their own car and driving to work) are so damaging to their financial health. See: Curing your Clown-Like Car Habit

5. Reducing your cost of living via voluntary simplicity, minimalism, D.I.Y skills and community exchange/sharing
- Despite the massive disparity in incomes, most people spend around 40 hours/week in conventional jobs as employees - this is reflective of their simple adoption of social norms rather than individual's assessing how much they need to work and earn to support a certain lifestyle. In reality, almost everyone can reduce their consumption and expenditure, become more self-sufficient, and swap or share within their local community. For more on downshifting, voluntary simplicity, minimalism, and the D.I.Y and sharing economy see: How to contribute to genuine, transformative sharing

6. Once you genuinely desire to work less and more flexibly you will identify many opportunities to do so and thus also reduce your car-dependence
- The big challenge for most people is simply to make this switch to actively desiring to reduce time spent as an employee in a conventional job and in income-maximising work. Once you reprioritise your goals around what really matters you will readily start to identify all of the opportunities to minimise time spent working in such jobs and, to the extent that you do need to work, try to flexibly fit that work around your family/friends and priorities. There are many benefits of making this switch, reducing car ownership and usage is just one of them. However, this is a blog about how cycling can improve your life so the rest of this post will highlight common opportunities with the most relevance to eliminating car commutes to work.

7. Reducing the number of days per week you work a conventional job
- I've been working 4 days/week since April 2013. From Jan 2015 I'll be 3 days/week and later this year even less. This is just an average and the precise days or schedule isn't set in stone. Indeed, the greatest benefit of working less than a full-time schedule is that it has the potential to greatly increase the flexibility of which days you work and when you start/finish. Once your work pattern isn't trapped by some organisation/team-wide rules or norms this flexibility can enable you to find ways to eliminate commuting by car - most commonly, by leveraging cycling and public transport.

- Reducing the number of days per week you work also makes some other options more feasible such as carpooling. This could be difficult or inconvenient if trying to arrange five days a week but is more feasible if only required a few days a week.

- When doing a part-time job it is vital not to try and pack in a full-time workload. This is a common trap and is either self-defeating (you may as well get paid if you really want to do more work) or leads to exploitation (your colleagues and employer won't complain). See: The Guardian: Why women part-timers should be full-time ball-breakers

The Guardian: Is your daily commute a slog or a joy?

> The Simpler Way: Work and Time

8. Reduce or eliminate unpaid overtime
- Spending long hours at the office is crazy and I regret the periods of my life that I did so. When you're working a conventional job for someone else's interests, voluntarily doing long hours is a sure sign of an unbalanced life where you're missing out on many important things (family, friends, learning skills, cooking and eating well, keeping healthy, reading, etc). The justification is often "that's what everyone does" or career-advancement but this is a poor excuse. Virtually no-one is highly productive for more than 8 hours at a stretch so doing long hours is generally unproductive time-serving (See: The Economist: Proof that you should get a life). If you're genuinely doing productive work it's feasible to explain to your management that long hours are wasteful and counterproductive. If you're not doing much productive work (thus have little bargaining power) you need to change jobs so that you can get control back over your time.

- The key connection with the work commute is that early starts and late finishes (driven by voluntarily doing long hours) are a major barrier to commuting by bike and/or public transport.
> The Guardian: Working 9 to way past 5: dealing with a long hours culture

9. Eliminate travel to distant work destinations and multiple locations
- A common reason people give for commuting by car is the trip distance or need to travel to multiple locations. There is no conventional job I can dream of that would persuade me to spend 2+ hours each day commuting by car. The time, health and enjoyment sacrifices would simply be too high. Yet many people spend 2+ hours commuting by car to jobs they don't even like and would quit in a heartbeat if they won the lottery.

- There are ways to eliminate or reduce the need for such travel but it takes some effort or compromises. For example, centralising your work attendance at one location near to home and using technology (e.g. video/web conferencing, desktop sharing) or other methods to avoid travelling to other locations. Or choosing projects/clients at locations that are less car-dependent or allow more cycling/walking. There may sometimes be sacrifices in terms of your role and maximising your income but this has to be offset against the resulting car dependence and lifestyle and health consequences.

- Many people (e.g. in America) also work multiple jobs purely for income-earning reasons. The travel demands of these jobs then necessitate car-dependence. For such situations, the medium-term escape has to be focused on eliminating the need for multiple jobs or at least difficult commutes to them. If the cost of owning and using cars was radically reduced along with other unnecessary lifestyle costs, the need for these jobs and commutes could often be eliminated.

10. Telecommuting and working from home
- With almost all homes having fast internet and most key workplace systems being available remotely (internet or VPN), there are few remaining technical barriers to much computer-based work being done remotely. Telecommuting simply eliminates the work commute. The major remaining barriers relate to workplace norms and concerns about monitoring actual productivity. The best option is to shift your income-earning work to organisations that already support working remotely and don't require you to be office-bound.

- For workplaces which don't already support telecommuting, the aim would be to focus on productive work that is tangible and trackable such that your output can be measured even when you're at home. Ultimately, being paid for output not time can be very liberating once you've found many productive, alternate uses for your time. You'll be driven to become as time-efficient as you can in delivering output so that you can free up your time for other things.
> The Guardian: Why aren't we all working from home today?
Working from home: how Yahoo, Best Buy and HP are making moves
> CSRWire: Legalizing Telecommuting: Corporate Responsibility or Environmental Compliance?

McCrindle Research: Working from home - The benefits and the cost

11. Actively seek work and employers that permit flexibility as to work schedules and attendance at the office. Know and use your legal and employer-based flexible working rights
- Flexibility in when you attend work and when you can leave or work from home makes commuting by bike or public transport much more feasible. For example, in winter, if it's raining in the morning, I often start working from home and ride into work when the rain pauses or stops.

- Being able to work part-days from home or make up time later (e.g. in the evenings from home) is a major advantage in being able to be less car-dependent. It's also desirable to have  a workplace that enables you to be free from having to carry a laptop and other work equipment constantly between home and work (e.g. lockers, support for multiple work devices, etc).

- Many employees are also unaware of (or fail to exploit) the full extent of their legal flexible working rights (slowly increasing) and employer policies.
> The Guardian: Flexible working is on its way – know your rights
How flexible working is good for you - and for your career
> FlexJobs: 100 Top Companies for Remote Jobs in 2014

12. Switching from jobs with car-dependent commutes to income-earning work closer to home or that requires less travel
- Income-maximisation is a terribly counterproductive driver of decisions about work but is the current norm. Consequently, one major unexploited opportunity is to switch from a job with a car-dependent commute to one that is closer to home and you can reliably commute to by walking, cycling or public transport. With the car-savings included there may be little loss of net income but, even if there is, there are many benefits to working closer to home and commuting via an active mode (walking, cycling).

13. Choosing more satisfying, productive work that matches your characteristics and values
- Much of the dissatisfaction with conventional jobs, work and commutes is actually best addressed through changing careers and the kind of income-generating work you do. This is a big change but that's also where the big potential benefits come from. Below are some useful guides in considering this critical decision about work, skills and lifestyle.
The Pathfinder: How to Choose or Change Your Career for a Lifetime of Satisfaction and Success - Nicholas Lore
> USA Today: 8 books that will lead you to your dream job
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us - Daniel Pink

Further Info:
Juliet Schor
> New York Times piece - After the jobs disappear
> YouTube: Visualizing a Plenitude Economy

The Guardian
There's more to 'going Dutch' than having a separate cycling lane
The reason fewer US women cycle than the Dutch is not what you think it is
By offering to freeze their employees’ eggs, Apple and Facebook make it clear they don’t know what women want

New York Times
Yahoo Orders Home Workers Back to the Office

The Urbanist
Why can’t Yahoos telecommute anymore?

New Yorker
> Face Time

The Conversation
Was egg-freezing a perk too far from Facebook and Apple?

Back To the Stone Age? New Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer Bans Working From Home

New Republic
Against the Insufferable Cult of Productivity

McCrindle Research
> How Australians get to work; ABC News report
> Working from home - The benefits and the cost

Work Life City Limits: Comparative Household Perspectives

The Guardian: Work blog
I want to work a four-day week when I qualify as a solicitor

The Guardian: Sustainable business blog
The five forces shaping the future of the workplace landscape

Jacobin Magazine
In the Name of Love

Strike Magazine
> On the phenomenon of bullshit jobs (David Graeber)

Fast CoExist
These Cycling Desks Charge Your Phone—And Your Muscles—While You Work

Telecommuting Jobs
> FlexJobs
> Forbes: The Best-Paying Jobs You Can Do From Anywhere
> Rat Race Rebellion

> Downshifting
> Workaholic
Work–life balance