Tag Archives: commute

Our daily commute has a direct impact on our productivity and job satisfaction

Our daily commute can tell a lot about our productivity at work, according to new research.

Image via Pixabay.

New research at Dartmouth College showcases the importance our commute can have on our workday. The findings show how certain behavior and psychological patterns we exhibit during commuting can be used to accurately predict job performance and employee satisfaction levels throughout the day.

The results are based on a year-long monitoring period of commuting workers prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Start of the day

“Your commute predicts your day,” said Andrew Campbell, the Albert Bradley 1915 Third Century Professor of computer science at Dartmouth, lead researcher and co-author of the study. “This research demonstrates that mobile sensing is capable of identifying how travel to and from the office affects individual workers.”

Data for the study was recorded through the smartphones and fitness trackers of 275 workers over a one-year monitoring period. The participants’ states were also recorded for 30 minutes before and after commuting. Most of these individuals (around 95%) drove to and from work, the team reports. Participants were provided with Garmin vivoSmart 3 activity tracker and a smartphone-based sensing app.

These devices were used to record a range of factors including the levels of physical activity, phone usage, heart rates, and stress levels. This body of data could be used to accurately predict workers’ productivity and satisfaction, the authors explain. The research could also help us to raise workers’ quality of life and help them be more productive.

“We were able to build machine learning models to accurately predict job performance,” said Subigya Nepal a PhD student at Dartmouth and lead author of the paper. “The key was being able to objectively assess commuting stress along with the physiological reaction to the commuting experience.”

Each worker’s day was assessed using ‘counterproductive work behavior’ and ‘organizational citizenship behavior’, two recognized criteria of job performance. The first is behavior that harms an organization’s overall efficiency, while the latter is beneficial. The baselines for each of these behaviors were set through regular, self-reported questionnaires sent in by participants.

“Compared to low performers, high performers display greater consistency in the time they arrive and leave work,” said Pino Audia, a professor of Management and Organizations at the Tuck School of Business, a senior scientist on the study team, and a co-author of the study. “This dramatically reduces the negative impacts of commuting variability and suggests that the secret to high performance may lie in sticking to better routines.”

Apart from this, high-performers tended to show more psychological markers of physical fitness and stress resilience. Low-performers showed higher levels of stress before, during, and after the commutes, and tended to use their phone more during commutes.

This aligns well with previous research on the topic, the team explains. Such research found that stress, anxiety, and frustration felt by individuals during their commute can reduce their efficiency at work, increase levels of counterproductive work behavior, and lower their engagement with organizational citizenship behavior. However, the current study is the first to link commuting data directly with workplace performance.

“The insights from this proof-of-concept study demonstrate that this is an important area of research for future of work,” said Campbell, co-director of Dartmouth’s DartNets Lab.

The small percentage of participants who engaged in active commuting — such as walking to work — showcased that such forms of commuting are typically associated with increased productivity during the day. Additionally, the study also found that people tended to spend more time commuting back home than they do going to work in the morning.

In the future, the team hopes that their findings can be used as a basis for new technology aimed at detecting and lowering commuter stress. Such interventions could include an app that offers suggestions for short stops, music, or podcasts aimed at improving a commuter’s emotional state.

The paper “Predicting Job Performance Using Mobile Sensing” has been published in the journal IEEE Pervasive Computing.

Cities need to wean off of cars in the future or become endless traffic jams

If we want cities to remain viable in the future, we’ll have to rethink transportation and car use, a new paper warns.

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Researchers at the University College London (UCL) trying to understand the city of the future say it doesn’t mix well with automobiles. If current trends continue, they explain, cities will eventually be swamped by cars. This will drain ever-more resources on infrastructure, and waste ever-more of our time through busy, slow commutes.

Cars will still be used, undoubtedly, but the authors recommend that walking or cycling should be promoted instead of these for short, local trips. Public transport networks should be improved and encouraged for longer journeys, where possible. In order to keep cities livable in the future, the team concludes, cars should only be used for special occasions or emergencies.

Too many

“The city of the future, with millions of people, cannot be constructed around cars and their expensive infrastructure,” explains lead author Dr. Rafael Prieto Curiel. In a few decades, we will have cities with 40 or 50 million inhabitants, and these could resemble car parks with 40 or 50 million cars.”

“The idea that we need cars comes from a very polluting industry and very expensive marketing.”

The results are based on a mathematical framework that models the use of cars in a city. For the purposes of this study, the model assumed that citizens would either use a car on a daily basis or used public transport. What the model tracked was how long (in terms of time) each journey would take, as time was considered to be the main cost individuals consider when deciding on how to travel. The baseline for the model was a city in which there is no personal car traffic, just cycling, walking, and public transport.

On the other extreme, the model considered a city with 50 million inhabitants and 50 million cars, where all residents would commute to work with their own vehicle in order to save up on time. This virtual city, quite understandably, saw much higher levels of congestion and required more spending on infrastructure such as avenues, bridges, and car parks in order to accommodate all that traffic.

Surprisingly however, while the people in this city opted to drive to work to get there sooner, they actually lost more time than those in other scenarios. While driving is the fastest solution for individuals, when everybody opted for it, commuting times were the longest seen in any of the simulated cities. The team explains that this comes down to traffic — all those cars on the road create jams and slow everybody down significantly.

Where to go from here — and how?

The paper offers reliable evidence that better public transport infrastructure would improve the travel time for citizens, as more of them would opt for public transport over personal vehicles. It also shows that even without any improvements in public transport, time costs for commuters and citizens travelling through the city can be reduced by lowering the number of people driving at any single time.

While they don’t advocate for this solution, the authors give a scenario where a group of people is allowed to drive one week, but must use other transportation options the next one, such as ride-sharing or public transport. Average commuting times could be reduced by up to 25% (depending on the size of the group) for all citizens due to reduced car traffic, less congestion, and faster transportation throughout the city on average.

However, the authors underline that decreasing car use in cities hinges on giving people efficient travel alternatives, as well as local shops and services (so as to reduce demand for transport in the first place). Interventions such as congestion charges, tolls, and driving and parking controls can help discourage car use, but unless people have alternatives to pick from, and are informed as to the local costs of car use, we can’t reasonably expect them to give up the use of their cars. Some cities have tried simply banning some vehicles based on their license plate, such as Mexico City, but this backfired as residents purchased older, cheaper, and more polluting cars to get around the ban.

Not making any changes isn’t a viable option, either. They note that car production is fast increasing, and has actually outstripped population growth. In 2019, 80 million cars were produced, while the population increased by 78 million worldwide. Pollution is a big concern: globally, car manufacturing (including electric vehicles) contributes 4% of total carbon dioxide emissions. Energy use, be it petrol, diesel, or electricity, also generates pollution (right under our noses, in the case of combustion engines) and added costs. Material costs related to the construction and maintenance of infrastructure required by these cars, as well as time lost in traffic due to congestion, are also added costs most people don’t consider.

“Currently, much of the land in cities is dedicated to cars. If our goal is to have more liveable and sustainable cities, then we must take part of this land and allocate it to alternative modes of transportation: walking, cycling, and public transport,” says co-author Dr. Humberto González Ramírez from the Université Gustave Eiffel.

Such research is actually very important, as sustainable transportation is a key objective for many large cities as part of one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. This model, the authors explain, can easily be adapted to other cities around the world, although it is particularly useful for locales where the majority of travel (>90%) is done by car, which is most common for cities in the US.

The paper “A paradox of traffic and extra cars in a city as a collective behaviour” has been published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

Commuting patterns can help explain why some ethnicities were worse affected by COVID-19

The higher COVID-19 infection rates seen in black American communities compared to the overall averages could come down, at least in part, to their daily commute, a new paper explains.

Image via Pixabay.

We all felt the pressure that the pandemic has placed on our lives, but some of us have been having a way harder time than others. Sure, nobody likes being stuck inside for days on end, but we have to admit that it’s a luxury, and a privilege, for that to be our main gripe in a global pandemic that killed many thousands.

Minorities and poorer communities have borne the brunt of the hardship. We don’t know for sure exactly why, but it’s not hard to intuit how a lack of resources, poor socio-economic prospects, and social marginalization play into this. A new study comes to flesh out our understanding of these mechanisms by uncovering the role daily commuting patterns play in spreading the coronavirus through black American communities.

Working problems

“The study suggests that taking into account daily commuting patterns of a social or ethnic group can be enough to explain most of the differential incidence of COVID-19 in African American communities during the first epidemic wave last year,” says Aleix Bassolas, Postdoctoral Research Assistant at Queen Mary.

The team used US census data from over 130 metropolitan areas to put together two types of geographical network. The connections between bordering census areas, together with commuting graphs, were used to chart the flow of people coming to and from their jobs across the nation. Their results suggest that coming into contact with other ethnic groups at their workplace or during their commute can account for the documented “infection gap” in society.

The higher than average incidence of COVID-19 recorded in black communities can be explained through this mechanism, the team notes. Predominantly-black communities in the US are some of the nation’s poorest and thus hardest-hit by the pandemic. For many of their members, sitting it out in quarantine simply isn’t an option, and they have to take a job outside of the home to keep families fed and rent paid.

In some areas of the U.S., COVID-19 incidence among such communities can be up to 5 times higher than the overall societal average. Previous research has shown that socio-economic factors can explain part of this infection gap, but not all of it.

In their study, the authors considered the effect that residential segregation (that people tend to live in areas where their ethnicity is the majority) and other forms of segregation such as commuting have on spreading or containing the disease. This was mediated by the groups’ diffusion segregation, which estimates how likely any group is to come into contact with groups of other ethnicities. A weekly tally of known COVID-19 cases during the early days of the pandemic was used to test the findings.

Strangers on the train

Random routes were simulated over the commuting graphs the team put together, which aimed to determine how long it would take for a person from a census tract to encounter individuals from another ethnic group for the first time. This approach showed that black Americans were the most exposed to other ethnicities — in essence, they’re the group most likely to come into contact with any of the other groups.

Later on in the pandemic, as restrictions on movement began to be implemented on a larger scale, public transport usage started to correlate strongly with the infection gap observed in different US regions.

The team also notes that diffusion segregation alone could explain the observed infection gap relatively well, while factors such as life expectancy or access to healthcare services had more of an influence on the disproportionately high CODIV-19 death rates seen in black communities.

“Our results confirm that knowing where people have to commute to, rather than where they live, is potentially much more important to curb the spread of a non-airborne disease,” says Dr. Vincenzo Nicosia, Lecturer in Networks and Data Analysis, at Queen Mary and corresponding author of the paper.

“Policymakers need to take into account specific mobility patterns and needs, as well as differences in the mobility and commuting habits of different ethnic and social groups when deciding on the most effective non-pharmaceutical countermeasures against COVID-19 and similar non-airborne diseases.”

The approach used here can easily be applied to other countries such as the UK, but it’s dependent on them having quality, detailed records of commuting data. Not every government has access to those, they explain.

The paper “Diffusion segregation and the disproportionate incidence of COVID-19 in African American communities” has been published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.