The news that Marissa Meyer, the CEO of Yahoo, wishes to curtail Yahoo employees working from home, has provoked interest and criticism from across the board, not least from Richard Branson who was quick to make clear his belief in "trusting people to get their work done wherever they are, without supervision". Although I do not wish to join the naysayers - as a politician I don't believe I should be in the business of telling employers how they should run their companies - those in favour of home working can point to an increasing amount of evidence to help fight their corner.
Last week I released a report entitled 'Home Works: Why London needs to expand home working'. The report calls for a step-change in Transport for London's (TfL) attitude to home working and flexible working. I wrote the report in part because I wanted to make the case for home working, but also because I wanted to explore the barriers to home working and try to find ways that the government and the Mayor of London might break those barriers down.
My conclusion was that a major barrier was the sunk cost of commuting. For a great many UK commuters, especially those who work in central London, it makes sense to buy an annual season ticket. However currently the only season tickets available cover travel costs for a five-day working week. If you've paid £2224 for an annual Zone 1-6 season ticket there is no real financial incentive for you to use it for less than 5 days a week.
So my report calls for the Mayor and TfL to introduce flexible Travelcards and annual rebates to help commuters make substantial savings. Commuters should have the option of, for example, buying a three-day per week Travelcard. This would make part-time working more affordable for commuters and should encourage those who are able to work from home to do so more often.
An alternative way to achieve the same benefits would be for commuters to pay for their season ticket and then receive a rebate for every day that they choose not to travel. If we start from the assumption that a full-time worker buying an annual season ticket would expect to work 225 days per year, then a Zone 6 commuter pays approximately £9.88 per day for their travel ticket. If a rebate was set at somewhere between £5 and £7 per day, a commuter who worked from home for 50 of those days could expect to receive a rebate of between £250 and £350.
As a London Assembly Member I'm well aware of the benefits of investing in public transport. Even with the building of Crossrail and many other crucial train and tube upgrades - in London and across the UK - a rising working population is leading to ever more overcrowding on public transport. Clearly Britain needs transport investment, but the government and London's Mayor should also be focussing on persuading more businesses and individuals to take advantage of the many benefits of working from home.