Remote Working

The future of remote work: stop missing your commute

Lydia Watson

It’s been over eight months since the UK’s first lockdown began. Things that were so normal earlier in 2020 – like being cheek-to-cheek with sweaty strangers on the tube twice a day for 40+ minutes, for example – are unimaginable now.

But while it looks like remote work is here to stay, with the list of companies going permanently remote-first continuing to grow, the novelty is wearing off for some.

“I miss the office”: who really feels that way?

Nostalgia used to be connected to songs that remind you of your gap year, or your first bowl of ice cream as a child, or something equally wholesome. But nostalgia for the office is something else. It’s understandable: at home you’re missing your teammates, your structures and routines, your separation of work and life.

But really, remote working is working. 73% feel successful working remotely, with another study seeing 88% claim they’re staying productive – and with reports of longer hours being worked, that’s not all that surprising. Though while research shows almost 90% want to continue working from home at least part of the time, there’s one unexpected part of office life that people seem to be missing.

People are missing their commute – yes, really

Early starts, traffic jams, tube delays, leaves on the track, hours lost, money drain – these are the things we used to associate with our commute. But as the pandemic continues, a surprising sense of loss has come to the fore. People are missing their commute. Let’s take a look at why – and the concerning reality about its bad side:

The good side of commuting:

  • It gives us a routine that sets us up for the day: using your commuting time to check your calendar, read the news, or another small routine has been shown to make you more excited about the day ahead, and have higher job satisfaction.
  • People would choose more money over a shorter commute: with an article showing workers would prefer an extra $3000 yearly over saving an hour commuting daily, how bad can their commute actually be?
  • Some forms of commuting are better than others: the Office of National Statistics found those cycling 30+ minutes, travelling by taxi, motorbike, or scooter, or travelling by train or underground for under 30 minutes didn’t see a negative impact on wellbeing.
  • It’s the only ‘me time’ some of us get: with home and work life merging together, that hour or two a day without obligations or interactions was something to be cherished.
  • It’s the only ‘me time’ some of us get: with home and work life merging together, that hour or two a day without obligations or interactions was something to be cherished.

The bad side of commuting:

How do you balance the time and money you’re saving with the aspects that you’re genuinely missing? Here’s our two steps for success:

1. Make the most of your lack of commute

This is important to recognise: just because your people are saving time by working remotely, it doesn’t mean they should be doing longer hours. But that’s exactly what they are doing.

Research shows that in America, people are working for 33% of the time they save by not commuting. And similarly in the UK, the workday has become roughly two hours longer on average – with one study estimating the additional time spent working would amount to an extra month per year.

That might sound good for business – but it’s leading to teams of “overworked, stressed” people. Longer hours have been linked to a 60% higher risk of heart problems, and a 40% higher risk of suffering from coronary heart disease. And that’s not just bad for wellbeing – it’s bad for productivity too. Studies show diminishing returns for working later, with a 50% increase in time barely seeing a 25-30% increase in output. It’s not worth it – for you, or your employees.

2. Make up for your lack of commute

So how can you (and your teams) make the most of the extra time, without falling into the trap of overworking? First off, why not consider a ‘fake commute’. To fill the gap where you used to mind the gap, the concept of a ‘fake commute’ may appeal. It’s about simulating the experience of getting out of the front door, and taking half an hour to zone as you usually would.

Maybe you walk a circular route, go for a drive, or even a cycle – your aim is to create a new routine that gets you in the mood for work, whether it’s listening to a podcast while you stroll along or hearing the headlines on the radio. Whatever it is, do it before and after work to help you mentally clock on and off. Here’s some other ideas:

 

  • Have morning ‘check ins’ with your team, but keep the work chat to a minimum. This is to replicate that experience of getting into the office and making your morning coffee. Chat about what you’ve watched on TV, or what you had for dinner.
  • Have an end of the day ‘wind down’ with your team too. Maybe there are snacks, a quick game of pictionary, or even their preferred tipple on occasion – whatever it is, keep in mind that ‘closing time’ vibe you’re missing from the office.
  • Bookend your working day with exercise. Beyond the obvious health benefits, it makes you dedicate a block of time to (literally) warming up for and warming down from work.
  • Incorporate ‘daylight breaks’ into your day, especially while the days are shorter. Telling your people to step outside while it’s still light, just for fifteen minutes or so, could start a new workday routine more suited to a remote-first culture.

It’s time to start the conversation

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