The Rise of the Fake Commute
One of the best things about working from home is not having to commute.
No more rainy walks; morning traffic jams; standing in a packed carriage with your face in someone’s armpit whilst someone else elbows you in the ribs in an attempt to do their mascara on a moving train, all to the sound of that-song-you-just-can’t-stand leaking through armpit guy’s headphones… reminding yourself to breathe only to get a strong whiff of uncomfortably warm morning commute.
Instead of arriving at your office flustered, fed up and ready to report armpit guy for crimes against humanity, you take a stress-free stroll from your bedroom to your desk. Bliss.
Or is it?
When Covid-19 hit and remote working went from a perk to a necessity, many of us were thrilled at the thought of cutting the commute. An often expensive, time-consuming inconvenience swapped for more sleep, longer mornings or finally becoming that person who manages to do a workout before 9am. It seemed to be a small silver lining in a very stressful pandemic-shaped cloud.
The reality though, has been somewhat different.
How Have We Replaced the Commute?
In a study conducted by Harvard Business School that analysed the emails and meetings of 3.1 million people in 16 cities around the world, they found that the average length of a working day increased by 48.5 minutes during the early stages of the pandemic.
That’s right, most of us replaced a commute to work with more work.
Over a year later, we’re still at it. The 2021 State of Remote Work Report by Buffer found that 45% of people who began working remotely during the pandemic are working more than they used to. In a recent LinkedIn poll, we also found that 43% of respondents have replaced their commute with more work.
As a manager, this may initially seem like a good thing – more hours logged at work means more is getting done, right?
Parkinson’s Law posits that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion”. Where once, we had a hard finish line of 5pm, now we have the whole evening stretched out before us for work to expand into. More time at work doesn’t necessarily mean more is getting done and in fact there is research to suggest that people are actually more productive when they work less. We are also more prone to making mistakes when we work longer hours, further decreasing efficiency.
As well as having a negligible or even negative effect on productivity, working longer hours is detrimental to our health. People who feel overworked are more likely to sleep less, eat poorly and exercise less frequently. They are also more likely to develop a whole host of physical and mental health conditions, leading to higher rates of absenteeism.
On the surface, longer hours may look like a positive but supporting your team to maintain a healthy work-life balance is vital for their health and the overall health of your organization.
Interested in helping your team to manage their time more effectively? Check out our virtual workshop on Time Management for Remote Workers.
The Importance of Ritual
So why are we having so much difficulty enjoying the time we thought we’d gained back?
Well, though time-consuming and often frustrating, for many of us the commute was a daily ritual. Research has found that rituals, both transformative and mundane, are important for maintaining our mental and physical health. They can help to relieve stress and anxiety and give us a sense of control over our lives.
In this case, the daily commute can act as a clear signal that the working day is beginning and ending. It gives us time to switch mindsets and feel in control of the next stage of our day – to prepare for work or decompress from it. The loss of this ritual has made it harder for many people to switch off from work. In fact, not being able to unplug is now the biggest struggle we face when working remotely.
Though we may enjoy the flexibility and freedom that remote working brings, the reality is that rituals and routines are also important. They help us to manage our time and can contribute to a better work-life balance.
So What Can We Do?
As a manager, there are many things you can do to support your remote and hybrid teams to build routines and maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Set clear expectations for working hours
Encourage people to take regular breaks
Discuss appropriate channels and times of communication within your team
Provide appropriate work equipment so that people can use separate devices for work and play
Check-in with people regularly to see how they are managing the demands of remote working and provide training and support where appropriate
One of the easiest and most universally accessible things to do though is to discourage people from extending their working day and to instead use this time to add a fake commute.
This ‘commute’ can be physical or mental – what’s important is taking the time to establish a new ritual that signals the switch from home to work and back again.
Take a walk
Go for a run
Grab a coffee
Listen to a podcast
Stand squashed up against the wall and listen to that-song-you-just-can’t-stand as though it really were leaking through someone’s headphones
Take a moment to be thankful that you do not, in fact, have your face in someone’s armpit
Whatever it is, taking the time to build a new ritual to signal that the working day is beginning and ending can help to establish a healthier work-life balance – something that is vital to maintaining motivation, productivity and overall health.
You could encourage people to take this a step further and add micro-commutes between tasks. In an office, we often need to switch rooms for meetings or appointments, but at home it’s all too easy to stay sat in the same chair, at the same desk all day. As well as having a negative impact on our health, this can also make it difficult to switch between tasks effectively. Encourage people to take a short break between meetings, walk around the block, switch seats or just take a moment to themselves.
Cutting the commute may have saved time travelling, but replacing this with more work doesn’t help anyone. Encourage your team to set boundaries, build routines and take back that silver lining.
Their health and the health of your organization will thank you.
Are you looking to support your team to manage the balance of remote or hybrid working more effectively? Take a look at our virtual workshops on: