We Need a Remote Work Commute
Perhaps commuting wasn’t so bad after all
Your train is running behind schedule, and you’re going to be late for work for the second time this week. Worse, you got drenched on the walk to the station, and you can already smell the damp from your shoes. You look inside your sodden bag and realize you forgot your lunch. It’s only early morning, and you already wish the day was over. To make matters worse, you’ll have to repeat this ritual in around 9 hours, stuck shoulder to shoulder with other disgruntled passengers all just desperate to get home.
So when the world of work went remote, I, like many others, rejoiced at the prospect of regaining the time I typically spent commuting. I couldn’t stop telling people about this quarantine-benefit in my search for silver linings in the earlier days of lockdown. “I’ve got an extra 3 hours a day back, think of what I can do with it!”
It turns out that converting that time into something beneficial has been challenging. And, the longer I go commute-less, the more I realize that the process of traveling to work has many benefits that we could all do with restoring to our daily schedules.
There’s no denying that commuting has its bugbears, some of which are quite serious. According to a study by the NHS, 55% said they felt more stressed due to their commute, 41% did less physical activity, and 33% said the journey contributed to extra calorie intake. Another study found that commuting significantly impacted time spent with family and friends.
But the process also gives us valuable alone time, time to think and learn, and an opportunity to practice aspects of self-care. During my commute, I would consume podcasts at a frightening rate, read books, take power naps, phone friends and more. My commute also involved 30 minutes of walking each way, which was good for my health, mind, and step count.
Now, I get up later, roll over to my desk, barely managing to put on a shirt to at least make my top half look respectable. I’m not consistently taking morning walks, or lunchtime strolls, because I don’t have to any more — the responsibility to do so has become a choice. As for important activities like reading books and listening to podcasts, I’ve read all of two books since the pandemic kicked off, and when I update my podcasts feed, the ever-growing list of new episodes gives me anxiety. In the evenings, I struggle to switch off properly because, of course, I don’t have to pack up and go home when I’m already at home. Why not just do that little bit of work I never finished?
It’s becoming more apparant that commuting acts as an essential transitional buffer, giving us a structure that defines our workday. According to a study co-authored by Jon Jachimowicz, an assistant professor in the Organizational Behavior Unit at Harvard Business School, the daily commute offers people an opportunity to engage in “role-clarifying prospection.” Writes Jachimowicz, “It’s not as easy as switching from one role to the next. When you go into work and you’re still in your home role, you often have conflict between the home-related identities and your work-related identities.”
While many of us have adjusted to this new remote life, we need to be able to better switch between our work and home related indentities. But how? Well, there is one aspect of the old work world we should all reinstall, and that’s the daily commute. Consider adding a short walk around the block before you begin your workday to kick start your brain with a podcast or audiobook. Add in a post-walk stroll to destress and trigger your brain to shut down. These moments to ourselves are vital for our mind, body and wellbeing, and important moments of calm amongst the current storm. Better yet, studies have found that a 10–30 minute walk can have a significant role in increasing your energy levels, reducing fatigue, and keeping you feeling energised throughout your day. It’s even shown to help us retain information better.
So was the commute all that bad after all?