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Leisure travel appears to increase alongside working from home

Woman jogging
Photo: Mostphotos

More people working from home does not necessarily mean less travel. On the contrary, leisure travel may increase to compensate for sedentary work in the home, according to transport researcher Lena Winslott Hiselius. This can become a challenge for public transport.

There are strong indications that remote working is here to stay, at least in part and in certain workplaces.

Lena Winslott Hiselius, professor of transport economics at Lund University and research leader at Sweden’s National Centre for Research and Education on Public Transport, K2, has investigated in various ways how we are affected by increased digitalisation and working from home. Her methods have included employee surveys and interviews with HR managers at companies and public authorities.

“Human resources divisions are perhaps those that have previously taken the least positive view on working from home, but this group has now also been swayed and is planning to increase remote working within its organisations even beyond the pandemic. Many management groups are now having discussions in this direction.”

Leisure travellers’ needs are hard to meet

Nobody really knows what working life will be like after the pandemic subsides, or whether such a thing will ever completely happen. There are reports, but they point in different directions.

However, as digital meetings have become established and many employers now see opportunities to save money both by reducing office space and approving fewer business trips, predicting more remote working than before the pandemic is not a long shot.

“This means that we suddenly have more spare time, and surely nobody believes we will be spending it at home. We can go shopping, meet with friends, go out in nature, or travel to activities a little further away instead. We might choose to attend the fencing club in the neighbouring town rather than the one closest to home.”

This becomes a tricky equation for public transport, according to Lena Winslott Hiselius.

“Many public transport planners are currently pondering this issue. Previously, they have mainly focused on travel to school and work. Leisure travel differs in that it is so spread out over time and travel destinations. It is simply more difficult to provide public transport to leisure travellers.”

More recreational areas closer to cities

The changes could set off chain reactions and affect urban planning, for example. Municipalities might ensure that more parks and recreational areas are located close to built-up areas so that visiting them requires a car less often than it does today, predicts Lena Winslott Hiselius. At the same time, this could enable a reduction in the traffic chaos around existing recreational areas.

“We generally need to gather more knowledge about this everyday leisure travel, about where people go, how often, how they choose their gym or decide to meet for coffee with friends.

After all, we want the increased leisure travel to happen on foot, by bike or with public transport.”

Older women most satisfied with remote working:

Lena Winslott Hiselius and Peter Arnfalk, teaching staff member and researcher at the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics at Lund University, sent out surveys to employees at public authorities, universities and companies, with questions about their experience of remote working. They received 1105 responses. 

Their results show that women are more satisfied than men with remote working and that satisfaction with the situation increases alongside age.

“One explanation could be that it becomes easier to combine work and home duties, for which women traditionally take greater responsibility, if you work from home. Those who are older run a greater risk of becoming seriously ill and therefore appreciate not having to commute. People in more senior positions are also more autonomous and perhaps don’t always need to have colleagues around them.”

Another outcome of the survey was that those who previously commuted two to three times per week were most satisfied with remote working. But the more days respondents previously spent commuting, the less satisfied they were with remote working. What could be the explanation for that?

“Those who already previously worked at home a few days per week also had equipment and routines in place for working from home, so it was less of a transition. They  had also actively chosen to work from home.”

“We also had a number of part-time workers. For them, there was less of a  change in the number of days commuting compared to those who commuted every weekday. .”

The office becomes a social meeting place

The floor plans and function of office spaces could be affected if working from home becomes a permanent fixture. This emerges from the interviews with HR managers conducted by Lena Winslott Hiselius and Peter Arnfalk.

“The office goes from being a workplace to becoming a meeting place with the possibility of work. The physical workplace will acquire a clearer social function.”

This could, somewhat paradoxically, lead to even higher demands on workplace design. Attractive office premises could represent an important competitive advantage in the recruitment of new employees, believes Lena Hiselius.