We must look at new ways of working, not wait for changes to come through

Traffic in Ipswich ground to halt after the fatal crash on the Orwell Bridge on Friday morning. Pict

Traffic in Ipswich ground to halt after the fatal crash on the Orwell Bridge on Friday morning. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Last week’s tragic accident on the Orwell Bridge once again sparked calls for a new road across the top of the town.

Many commuters now only travel to London two or three days a week. Picture: Joseph Spear

Many commuters now only travel to London two or three days a week. Picture: Joseph Spear - Credit: Archant

I have no doubt that this will come. But it will not be a quick fix – and once it is built I really don’t see it as being the panacea to all the traffic ills when the bridge is closed.

The fact is that a norther relief road will generate its own traffic. Any easing of the pressure from the occasional closure of the Orwell Bridge will be marginal at best.

And of course we are 10-15 years away from the start of work on the road, and probably two or three years more before it is fully opened.

So what can we do now to ease traffic chaos?

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There is little that can be done to prevent serious traffic congestion when the bridge is closed (which happens very rarely after all) but there is much individual motorists – and their employers – can do to avoid the traffic jams that will follow.

To start with office workers should be enabled, and encouraged, to work at home when there are problems like this – and their line managers must give them explicit instructions to do so.

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Increasingly people who work on computers have their basic drive in the form of a laptop rather than a desktop and this is something they can be encouraged to carry with them to use at home if necessary.

I was speaking to someone from the county council the other day who was telling me it took him three hours to get from his home in Bury St Edmunds to Endeavour House on Friday.

“Why didn’t you turn back at Stowmarket when you heard about the bridge closure? I know you can work at home,” I said.

He admitted he should have done that – and he certainly will in future. It is something of a mindset that needs employees and employers to embrace.

That is a policy that is being spread throughout the public sector – but why do the big insurance offices in Ipswich insist their staff come in to sit at a desk in the town centre when the roads are congested? Why can’t they work from home on occasions?

These businesses have to be flexible enough to enable their staff to work away from the mothership if necessary.

What is best for an insurance business? To have someone arriving at his or her desk at 11am in a foul mood after taking two hours to get from the edge of town to the office car park? Or have someone fire up their computer at home at 8.30am – and not be worrying all day about the journey home?

I know there are many people and many jobs that require people to work in a factory, in a shop, in schools or hospitals, or on the road.

Lorry drivers have to drive their lorries. Service engineers have to drive their vans from property to property – and shop workers, garage mechanics, and production workers obviously need to travel to their place of work.

Working at home isn’t perfect. Personally I prefer to work in the office where you don’t have the distractions of my home desk – and where there is banter with colleagues.

But there are occasions when I work at home and certainly it would be much more productive for me to do that than sit in a long traffic jam.

It isn’t just when there are problems on the roads that working at home is desirable.

A significant number of commuters based in central London will now travel down to their office two or three times a week and spend the rest of the week working from home.

Yes, it requires discipline. But for many people the technology does now exist and it becomes much easier to achieve a work/life balance if you don’t have to commute to the office five days a week.

At long last rail companies are starting to recognise that. One of the big bugbears for many commuters to London is that you have to buy a season ticket valid seven days a week if you have to travel to the capital more than once a week, otherwise the commuting life is just too expensive.

We are starting to see the introduction of flexible season tickets which take a much more realistic view of 21st century working practices.

Because like everything else the world of work is evolving – and we have to be flexible enough to react when necessary.

When you next hear that the Orwell Bridge has been closed without warning stop and think whether your journey to work really is necessary.

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