UWI in Society

Work from home? YES!

Transportation survey shows great enthusiasm for the working conditions created as a consequence of COVID-19

By Dixie-Ann Belle

Eighty per cent of Trinbagonians would be happy to work from home once pandemic restrictions are over. Seventy-five per cent think that this is possible. These are some of the results transport engineer Katherine Agong discovered after surveying 480 respondents on their impressions about working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Agong, who studies the needs of travellers and modes of transportation at UWI St Augustine’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, promoted her survey through Facebook and Whatsapp. She received a creditable number of responses, many from professionals who drove to their workplaces but switched to working from home due to pandemic protocols.

She discovered that many of the respondents had excessively long commutes - no matter what mode of transport they used. Seventy-four per cent used cars. Thirteen per cent travelled by maxi taxi, 7 per cent used taxis and 2 per cent PH taxis. However, in all twenty-five per cent took over an hour to get to work.

“There is research internationally that shows that journey times that are half an hour and over have a serious detrimental effect on people’s life, people’s health and relationships,” Agong observes.

Her survey responses seem to mirror these studies. “The stress was coming from having to wake up early, fighting the traffic and not having enough time with family,” explains Agong.

According to the results of her survey, working from home had its drawbacks. Respondents experienced disadvantages like distractions, lack of equipment and difficulty in switching off from work to home life. Nevertheless, many reported several benefits. Besides the lack of or shortened travel times, they described better work-life balance and more productivity. They also found it more economical.

“People were really enjoying the amount of money they were saving from not having to travel to work,” says Agong.

This particular study is not part of Agong’s regular research, but the sharp reduction in traffic when the Trinidad and Tobago government implemented pandemic protocols caught her attention. She also has a personal interest in how the pandemic has affected work from home trends:

“When I lived in the UK, I strongly wanted to work from home -- say three days a week -- and my line managers were not of the opinion that it would be effective. My idea was many years in advance of when home working became acceptable, but I saw the benefits personally with my responsibilities.”

The transport engineer saw the possibilities of examining the effects of this new circumstance. “I thought this would be a really good idea to test people’s opinions of working from home as it relates to quality of life and travel in general.”

She believes her research can be valuable in developing transport and work from home policies. “I would like that people are encouraged to work from home,” she says. She also thinks that travel demand management could help the government in making data driven decisions. The results of her research suggest beneficial outcomes like traffic reduction, less pollution and delay of major road works. There could be, she says, a significant drop in stress levels in the work force and an increase in productivity.

Agong suspects that traffic levels could go up to and even exceed normal amounts when more people go back to work in offices once protocols are relaxed. That would be a shame. If there is one positive to come out of the pandemic it’s the example of how incorporating travel management in transport policy can make a meaningful change in the amount of traffic on our roads and even in the health and happiness of our workforce.

Dixie-Ann Belle is a freelance writer, editor and proofreader.