Smart and innovative

Smart solution for traffic problems or utopia? The psychology behind working from home.

Published on April 3, 2024

Eline Verhoeven is a master's student in behavior change and is writing her thesis at Brainport Bereikbaar. She investigates the opportunities for working from home in tackling traffic congestion, which seemed so great during corona. In this article, Eline shares her first findings.

Working from home and its effect on the road

Who would have thought that our home would one day become our office? Since corona, working from home has become an indispensable part of our daily lives. For almost half of working Dutch people it has become part of a normal working week [1]. During the pandemic, working from home had a major impact on the roads: we all remember the empty highways. But even though we have continued to work more hours from our own homes since then, the total number of remote workers has not grown and commuting has returned to 2019 levels. As a result, the effects of working from home on the road have disappeared [2, 3 , 4]. Commuting may increase even further as the number of working Dutch people continues to rise [5, 6].

Significant traffic peaks on Tuesday and Thursday

Commuter traffic shows a clear pattern throughout the week: on Tuesdays and Thursdays we go to the office at the same time, while on other days we often decide to work from home. This causes a lot of traffic on the road on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which is not only detrimental to the Brainport region and its residents [7, 8, 9], but also to employers. The peak traffic on Tuesdays and Thursdays causes overcrowding in parking lots and offices, while on other days these spaces are virtually deserted [10, 11, 12]. And those busy days can in turn be detrimental to the work and well-being of employees. Research shows that high utilization is associated with reduced performance and satisfaction, and increased fatigue and work stress [13, 14].

Spreading working from home: The solution or a utopia?

The problem is clear: there are too many people on the road and in the office on the same days. You'd think we'd want to change that, right? Despite all the disadvantages, little seems to be done to stimulate the spread of office and home working days. Only a small proportion of employers have a 'spread policy' [15]. But employees also play a role in this. For example, research among employees shows that we sometimes want to work from home (more), but do not always do so [16, 17].

What makes us choose whether or not to work from home? And how can we encourage working from home in a way that benefits the region, employers and employees? With psychological glasses on, we investigate the motives and barriers to working from home!

Working from home viewed from a psychology perspective

People who can do their work at home (and are therefore not tied to another location) often have the choice: do we work at home today or at the office? The intention we have to work from home will therefore influence our actual work from home behavior, in a positive way.

That choice is influenced by all kinds of things.

  1. Sometimes we make a very conscious choice to go to the office. But at other times we do it more out of habit: we leave for the office at 8:00 am, without consciously thinking about the choice [18]. It is therefore expected that the habit of traveling to the office undermines the effect that our conscious intention has on actual work-from-home behavior. But not only habit has to provide a possible explanation. There are also other things that influence our choice to work from home. For example, consider the existing norms in the office or in your social environment. Do colleagues approve of people working from home? Do they also work from home? In this way, our own behavior is also guided by the behavior and opinions of others. Therefore, we expect that more positive norms about working from home will lead to a greater intention to work from home [19, 20].
  1. Other things also play a role. Consider, for example, a feeling of connection with colleagues. If we have good relationships with people at work, it may make us less likely to work from home. This could therefore have a negative effect on our intention to work from home. A sense of competence (am I good at the work I do?) and a sense of autonomy in your work (to what extent can I determine the way in which I work?) may actually have a stimulating role: If we experience that being in control and being competent may increase our tendency to work from home [21, 22, 23].
  2. But the extent to which we experience control and convenience (also known as perceived behavioral control) about working from home may also have a stimulating role. And not to forget our own evaluation of working from home (also known as the working from home attitude, do I think working from home is positive or negative?). It is expected that the more positive our opinion about working from home, the greater our intention to work from home [19, 20, 24, 25].
  3. This work-from-home attitude is in turn expected to be influenced by two things: beneficial consequences and work-life separation preference. We expect that the perceived beneficial consequences of working from home (e.g. the consequences of working from home for your own productivity, time savings and stress) have a positive influence on this working from home attitude: if we see the benefits of working from home, we are more positive about working from home [19, 26] . In contrast, we expect that the work-life separation preference (the preference for keeping work and private life separate) has a negative influence on the working from home attitude: if we prefer to separate work and private life, we evaluate working from home less positively [ 20, 27].

The key question

Which of these things has the greatest influence on our tendency to work from home, and our actual work from home behavior? With this research we look at these mutual relationships, shown in the model above. Once we know which issues play the largest role, we can look for a work-from-home solution: a solution that allows working from home to be appropriately spread over the working week.

And we will test this work-from-home solution in practice! The aim of the pilot is to test the effectiveness of a work-from-home solution, to help employers better spread working from home. And thus contribute to reducing traffic congestion, improving office and parking space occupancy and the well-being of employees in the Brainport region. The first research into the psychological nature of working from home has now been completed. You can read the results here soon!

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