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Work in the office? Not me!

October 26, 2017

Nearly 11 years ago we moved from the city (Perth) to a country town in regional Western Australia. At the time, we were three hours’ driving distance from Perth (each way), so working in client offices was no longer an option. Both my regular clients at the time were happy for me to work from home and telecommute — they knew me, they knew how I worked, and they knew my work ethic and productivity. Because I worked for both part-time (2 days a week for one, 3 days a week for the other), they knew that I didn’t need to be in the office all the time. After those two contracts finished, I got a contract with a big client and my terms of working for them has always been based on telecommuting.

Three years after the big move to the country we moved to another area in regional Western Australia, but now I was about 90 minutes’ drive from the city. My big client didn’t really seem to know or care — I just continued working for them three days a week from home, as I always had. And that arrangement continues today. I’ve set foot in their Perth office fewer than 10 times in nearly 10 years. It works very well for me, and it must work OK for them too as my initial 3-month contract has been renewed year after year, so that now I’m nearly 10 years in.

So why write this blog post now? It came about because a tech writer friend of mine (who lives 60 miles north of downtown Chicago) was told by a recruiter that ‘the commute isn’t so bad’. Now, Chicago’s a BIG city, and while I’m sure it has lots of infrastructure (like regular train services etc.), the reality is that his commute would actually be horrendous — effectively adding at least 4 hours to his work day if he took the job in downtown Chicago. And for him, there’s horrible weather to deal with for several months of the year.

I decided to check out what it would cost in travel time and money if I was asked to physically work in an office in Perth…

I live 160 km (100 miles) from Perth. The first hour of driving gets me to the southern part of the main metro area (Safety Bay Rd exit for the locals). From there to the city centre is a crapshoot as to how long it takes — in light traffic in the middle of the day, about 45 minutes; in peak hour with heavy traffic, up to 90 mins; longer if there’s been an accident on the freeway. Then I have to hope I can get a place to park ($20+ per day), then walk to the office. This means I’d have to allow 2.5 hours each way each day (leaving home before 6am, and returning close to 8pm), plus the cost of fuel ($100+ per week), plus $100+ each week in parking fees. Add to that the stress of driving that distance and in traffic, plus the likelihood of kangaroos and emus on the road at dusk and dawn and at night, which is when I’d be doing the country driving part of the journey, and nope, not going to happen.

So let’s look at the train. There’s a train just twice a day from Bunbury (my nearest station) to Perth. The Australind is not a high-speed train, and takes about 2.5 hours for the journey. This train leaves Bunbury at 6am (arriving at 8:30am, with a good 15-minute walk to the office) or 2:45pm (not an option for a day in the office). It leaves Perth for Bunbury just before 6pm, getting into Bunbury around 8:30pm. But to catch the 6am train, I’d have to leave home at 5:15am as it takes ~30 minutes to drive to Bunbury. This means I’d have to be up by 4:30am each day, and I wouldn’t get home until after 9pm. Oh, and there’s no secure parking at the Bunbury train station, which is well out of the town centre, so my car would be sitting in an open car park in the middle of a semi-industrial area for about 15+ hours. The cost of the train isn’t cheap either — $66 return each day, so $330 per week, though a bit cheaper if you get a SmartCommuter ticket [$43 return per day; + $60 annual fee for a SmartCommuter card], or have a concession card [$33 return per day if you’re a pensioner or senior]). There’s no wifi on this train, and only a snack bar (with junk food), so sleeping and reading would be the only options. No time at all for family or family meals before or after I got home – it would be fall into bed to get up at 4:30am the next day to do it all again. What sort of life is that?

There’s a train from Mandurah to Perth, but that requires driving to Mandurah (nearly an hour), praying you get a car bay at the station (good luck with that…), then taking the train into Perth (50 minutes). The total time would be about 2 hours each way, assuming you can park at the Mandurah train station. The cost is about $22 return per day from Mandurah to Perth, but you still have about 4 hours total commute time (about 2 hours on the train and similar in the car), and now you have to add in fuel expenses too.

Bottom line: If any client wants me to come to the office regularly to work, they’re dreaming! If they want me there for the occasional day only, then they either pay my hourly rate for the travel time, or the cost of an overnight stay in a 3+ star city hotel (my preference for safety reasons). Commuting 4 to 5 hours (in country conditions, in the dark) plus an 8-hour day in the office just isn’t safe.

(NOTE: This post is just on the time and monetary cost of travel, not all the other associated costs like disrupted work/life balance, the cost of meals, the cost of business attire, etc.)

One comment

  1. I did it for a time in my previous job too it worked really well but the boss just couldn’t cope with the fact I wasn’t at the office all time and we parted ways. I’d love to find another job telecommuting!!

    Love your newsletter!!



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