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The Future of Work

The key to better workplace productivity may be self-driving cars

One of the biggest draws for self-driving cars is that they’ll significantly reduce auto collisions and traffic. Yet another is that they’ll give us back time — in more ways than one. Given how much time Americans spend at the wheel every day, cars that can drive themselves could relinquish a significant number of hours to focus on other things, like getting a head start on work.

From increasing mental bandwidth to extending sleep, here’s how driverless cars could be the answer to improved workplace productivity.

Free up brain space

When you’re driving, you can’t zone out completely but you also don’t need all your mental bandwidth — particularly on those painfully dull roads or highways.

Passive activities like listening to the radio or talking to someone in the backseat can usually be done without a hitch. But activities, like reading an article or replying to emails, occupy too much cognitive space (not to mention, they’re incredibly dangerous while driving). Enter autonomous technology, and all that attention directed on the road could be redirected elsewhere.

Similar to public transportation, which enables passengers to read the paper or use their phones, if cars are transformed into mini mobile offices, this byproduct of commuting will be all the more common. On top of replying to emails, imagine being able to video chat with a colleague or get a jumpstart on a demanding project.

Additionally, according to a report by Morgan Stanley, productivity gains afforded by autonomous vehicles could surpass $500 billion a year in the U.S. Savvy companies might, therefore, subsidize costs associated with owning and maintaining an autonomous vehicle. These could include upfront expenses, maintenance, and car insurance payments.

Get more shut-eye

Sleep deprivation is a productivity nightmare. A study from RAND Europe found that poor sleep costs the U.S. workforce $411 billion annually.

Driverless cars could be the antidote. Not only do they afford a head start on work, they also create the opportunity to curl up in the back seat and get a quick snooze in.

If you consider the fact that Americans spend more than 50 minutes a day commuting, the time for extra sleep adds up fast. And that’s not even to mention, high-traffic urban areas, where commute times might be double (or more) the national average.

Have your car run errands for you

Errands that used to require us getting behind the wheel may soon be possible in our absence.

While they’re not a reality yet, in the future, we may see smaller non-occupant vehicles specifically designed to run errands. Think a vehicle only big enough to carry a few bags of groceries. It would take up far less space on the road, and it wouldn’t be obtrusive when parked at home. While it’s out and about, you could put your feet up and relax or drain your deluged inbox.

The hurdles for self-driving cars are increasing

In order for self-driving cars to boost productivity, people will need to trust them first.

The University of Michigan published a study last year on whether self-driving cars would actually spur productivity. They found that productivity gains from driverless cars would only come about if the following issues are addressed:

  • Confidence in the technology itself (otherwise, people will just watch the road nervously)
  • Problems with motion-sickness
  • Posture and seating position
  • Loose objects “becoming projectiles during crashes”

Truth be told, change will not happen overnight. As safety issues are addressed and passenger confidence goes, so might productivity gains be felt, along with the slew of other estimated benefits.

Stephanie Braun is the Director of Connected Car at Esurance. She is responsible for designing the company’s auto product lines and managing telematics programs, like DriveSense Mobile. Stephanie has 11 years of experience in the auto insurance industry, focused primarily on product design and launch, pricing and product innovation. She writes on a wide range of auto insurance topics related to self-driving cars and telematics.

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