Surely your eyes are deceiving you. We’re not about to make that argument… are we?
The benefits to remote work are both clear and abundant—those who work from home save time, save money, have a lighter carbon footprint, and can live pretty much wherever they want to. And that’s only the start. Perhaps that’s why, according to recent data from Microsoft, over 70% of employees want flexible work options to continue, even after everyone can safely gather in person again.
But the fact remains that many executives are not willing to give up in-person collaboration, and that means many companies are beginning to call their employees back to the office. For some (though nobody we’ve met), returning to the pre-pandemic normal will be a relief; for others, it’ll feel like the dreaded first day of grade school after a liberating summer. Spending long subway rides slapped up against random sweaty bodies will only make those office stiffs long for that freedom even more.
But commutes can be good! Sure, we might think of commutes a little differently as a company based in New York City—for example, I used to walk to work every day. We know that’s not everyone’s reality, and that many commutes involve annoying traffic jams or tedious subway rides. But commutes force people to devote a certain portion of the day to transit, and this mindless travel time can be enriching, if you use it well. It’s entirely possible to do these enriching activities for yourself if you work from home, but the fact is that this past year, many people didn’t.
So, here are some things that we appreciate about commutes—now, now, don’t everyone rush the kiosk for monthly MetroCards all at once…
A Clear Beginning and End
The commute to the office unequivocally establishes the beginning and the end of the workday, which is something that many remote workers have trouble doing on their own. (Ask anyone who responds to your Slack messages at 10pm.) Indeed, the line between work and home was tremendously blurred during the pandemic. Research from staffing firm Robert Half showed that 70% of employees that transitioned to remote work in 2020 started working over the weekend, and 45% of those surveyed said they were working more than they were before the start of the pandemic. The above survey from Microsoft also showed that over 50% of surveyed employees reported in 2020 that they felt overworked.
When you commute, the workday is clearly confined to your time in your office building. For many people, these boundaries are necessary to prevent work from slowly creeping into every corner of daily life. Commutes make it clear when you have to be present for your job and when you’re off the clock.
A Mental Reset
The commute is like a daily state of in-between—you’re not quite working yet, but you’re not fully relaxed at home. Use it as an opportunity to preview or reflect upon your day’s effort. In the morning, for example, gather your thoughts and center yourself for your upcoming tasks.
This time to reset, according to Jerry Useem of The Atlantic, “initiates a sequence in which the feelings and attitudes of home life are deactivated, replaced by thoughts of work. This takes time, and if it doesn’t happen, one role can contaminate the other—what researchers call ‘role spillover.’”
Conversely, on your way home, consider a few moments for which you were grateful, celebrate your successes, and take note of your shortcomings. Even start to think about what you’ll need to do to cook dinner! Then, by the time you get home, you can fully enjoy your personal life, armed with a clear, refreshed mind.
Fresh Air & Exercise (at least a little?)
Americans were getting outside less even before the start of the pandemic—and by March 2020, safe, quality outdoor time was very hard to come by in many parts of the country.
Many people get their daily exercise by running, going to the gym, or taking a leisurely walk during a free period each day. During the pandemic, however, many people found that without a reason to go outside, they wouldn’t leave the house all day. Well, commuting to the office is a reason! Many commutes take places on congested highways and cramped subway cars, but there are some airy alternatives that can get the blood pumping and lift your spirits more than another rush hour traffic jam.
If your travel to and from the office includes public transportation, consider bolstering your commute by walking to a further subway station, biking, or taking a breezy ferry instead.
Get Creative Juices Flowing
Many people experience the peak of their creativity doing menial tasks, like cleaning the house or riding the subway. You don’t need your full mental capacity to accomplish the task, so the rest of your brain is left to wander.
While your commute takes you through the motions of your daily transportation, let your creative mind run free. Take note of any interesting sights, sounds, and smells that might inspire you. Jot down a funny idea that occurs to you, or make a note to revisit a topic that crosses your mind and piques your interest. Indulge your selfish pleasures—the books you’ve been meaning to get to or the music that your housemates never want to listen to.
At the very least, commuting represents a break from the stale routine of the past year. Make the most of it!