Lots of people are concerned that the multi-billion Rand Gautrain might end up being a white elephant. But, if it works, besides seriously reducing traffic jams, it is also a potential way for boosting the productivity of work and home-bound commuters.
This is according to Christopher Riley, CEO of notebook and accessories retailer The Notebook Company, who adds: “Traveling between Pretoria and Johannesburg these days has become a nightmare. Commuters can take up to four hours a day, in some, cases, traveling to and from on the Ben Schoeman Highway.
"If the Gautrain is safe and comfortable enough, commuters will be able to spend their traveling time doing work on laptops and other communications devices, thereby greatly increasing productivity. But the government needs to ensure that the Gautrain is going to offer the best in security – so that people can work on their laptops, without the fear of theft. This should be one of the cardinal focuses,” says Riley.
“Interestingly, although we live in the digital age and can communicate from anywhere in the world, the concept of the remote worker has not quite taken off. In general people are still desk-bound and are working regular office hours, which is naturally contributing to the peak hour traffic problem – which could soon actually reach total gridlock level and come to a complete standstill.”
However, he adds, one leading bank is pioneering a new concept by ferrying its Pretoria workers to and from its Sandton headquarters in a 3G-equipped bus. This allows employees to log into laptops and connect to the head office’s file server.
“This is a way for employers to relieve stress, to improve employee productivity and, at the same time, allows them to keep skilled staff who they otherwise might have lost.
“Perhaps this will be the way of the future and perhaps it is not only the bigger companies who can afford this type of solution," says Riley.
"I am sure employees would be willing to contribute some money towards the costs of equipping and running a bus – even if it a smaller minibus. Employees have to budget for petrol and wear and tear costs on vehicles anyway – so why not contribute something towards the capital outlay and running costs of the company bus.
"Besides making their working environment that much more enjoyable and less stressful, they will far easier by able to stay abreast of their workloads by working while traveling.”
Commenting on the bank’s 3G-equipped bus, Karen Geldenhuys, MD of Pretoria-based IT recruitment agency, Abacus Recruitment, says this “heralds a new trend for employers and workers” – and is a way for employers to retain skilled staff members.
“With traffic jams the way they are, many employees spend two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon getting to and from work. Besides being unproductive, this situation creates a lot of stress for employees. Because there is such a skills shortage – certainly in the IT industry – an increasing number of Pretoria-based workers are opting to look for employment closer to home in an effort to relieve stress levels, which have an impact on family lives, and on their health.
"This is not just true of people in Pretoria, it is true of any worker who has to travel long distances. Those that can afford to resign and find new employment – closer to home – are naturally the ones opting for this route. In many instances these are skilled workers, and companies can ill-afford to lose skilled workers.
“Forward-thinking companies are becoming more creative in order to retain skilled staff, as well as ensuring that overall productivity is not negatively affected due to downtime caused by traffic jams.
"This is arguably the way forward and those companies who can afford to provide transport – kitted out with the latest in communications – are arguably increasing going to look at this as an option. It is a win-win situation: the employer gains more productivity from its staff members, and employees’ stress levels are significantly reduced.”