The daily commute to the office: Is it really worth price to health?
In an information intensive economy, those who create, process, analyze and add value to information can do so from anywhere thanks to the proliferation of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) over the past two decades. Yet paradoxically, many Americans still engage in a daily commute to the office as if it were the 1950s of Dagwood Bumstead or the 1980s that inspired the more modern day office place comic strip, Dilbert. In those days, commuting to the office was necessary because that’s where the office equipment was — telephones, typewriters (and later, dedicated word processors), photocopiers and fax machines. Not anymore. Today, nearly any setting can function as an office where a knowledge worker can concentrate and be productive.
Nevertheless, on average Americans spend nearly an hour a day getting to and from an office that ICT has effectively rendered obsolete. That adds up to a lot of wasted and often stress filled time piled on top of an increasingly sedentary culture that battles the rising health care costs of lifestyle-induced chronic conditions linked to a lack of exercise, poor diet, and inadequate sleep. For the time crunched trying to balance family obligations with work, avoiding these adverse health impacts is even more challenging. Just look around any traditional office setting and chances are you’ll see plenty of stressed out, sleep deprived, and overweight people who are more likely use medical services and in turn increase their employers’ health care utilization costs.
What’s needed is a new model for traditional office-based work that can free up time for exercise, healthier home cooked meals and sleep that would otherwise be wasted on daily commuting. Fortunately, such a model better suited to today’s highly connected, information everywhere economy exists: ROWE or a Results Only Work Environment. A ROWE values getting the work done over daily office attendance. Early indications are that workplaces that adopt ROWE can achieve better health status at a time when workplace wellness is getting increased attention to slow the nation’s unsustainable rise in health care costs. A University of Minnesota study issued in December 2011 found workers in a ROWE realized increased health-related behaviors of more sleep and exercise — behaviors that can go a long way toward maintaining health and reducing medical utilization. ROWE is poised to become the successor to traditional “workplace wellness” programs that have been slow to demonstrate tangible progress in reducing employer health care costs.