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Checking emails while commuting should count as part of the working day, researchers suggest

People waiting for the train at subway station
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Times have changed. Now some employees can work from home, adopt a schedule with flexible hours, and execute work tasks while traveling to and from the office.

Over the last decade, greater access to Wi-Fi on trains and the widespread adoption of smartphones have led to an extension of the traditional working day for many.

Researchers said Thursday that if employees using their commute to work had this time recorded as part of their working day, it would likely "allow for more comfort and flexibility" and ease rush-hour bottlenecks.

Passengers use smartphones inside a subway train in Seoul, South Korea, in 2015.  
Woohae Cho/Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Passengers use smartphones inside a subway train in Seoul, South Korea, in 2015.  

In Norway, commuters have been seen to be able to include some travel time as part of their working day, the researchers made note of. This is not the case however in the U.K., so researchers at the University of the West of England (UWE) set out to examine the impact of free Wi-Fi on commuter trains.

They surveyed 5,000 rail passengers traveling on Chiltern Railways trains on two major London routes — from/to Birmingham and Aylesbury — over a 40-week period in 2016 and 2017.

Observing how popular the uptake of free Wi-Fi was, the researchers discovered that many passengers were willing to make use of the complimentary connectivity, increasingly as the amount of free Wi-Fi was extended. Others opted to use their own mobile data.

The UWE study, published Thursday, found that many of those surveyed used their commute to prepare for the day, or to catch up on work tasks, including emails.

Researchers also suggested calling for more available tables, seats and power sources, in addition to sufficient continuous connectivity. To enhance this, investment would be required from train operators and telecom businesses, the university added in an accompanying release.

Presenting the findings at the Royal Geographical Society's (with IBG) annual international conference, study co-author Dr Juliet Jain said in a statement, "If travel time were to count as work time, there would be many social and economic impacts, as well as implications for the rail industry. It may ease commuter pressure on peak hours and allow for more comfort and flexibility around working times. However, it may also demand more surveillance and accountability for productivity."

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