Photo By: Amos Bar-Zeev from Unsplash
Commuting, it’s something that just about everyone has to deal with. Whether it’s walking, driving, or taking the bus, commuting is a part of daily life.
Well, ordinarily, the commute is part of daily life. It’s easy to see how commutes changed over the course of the pandemic. Whether working or studying, most people were no longer required, or indeed, permitted, to go to a physical location to get things done.
Instead of waking up at 7 a.m. to have time to eat breakfast and catch the bus to get to a 9 a.m. class on time, personally, I found myself able to get an extra hour of sleep before my early morning classes. It was convenient and I didn’t forget to eat breakfast nearly as often as I did back when I was rushing to get out the door first thing in the morning.
While I am glad to be back to in-person classes, there are a lot of people who found themselves thriving while working and studying from home. The commute is a big part of why a lot of people might be dreading going back to work and school.
The commute represents a strange sort of transitional time in the work day. It’s about an hour, give or take, of time that doesn’t really belong to anybody. Most people don’t get paid for their commutes, so it’s not work time, but it’s not exactly personal leisure time either. If given the choice, not many people would choose to spend an hour on public transit or stuck in traffic.
When schools and certain sectors of the workforce were sent home to work, a whole lot of free time suddenly opened up. Hours that were once used to mindlessly get from Point A to Point B could be used for anything at all. Even during working hours, there was freedom in how workers were able to move. If it was a nice day, no one was stopping anyone else from taking their laptop into the backyard. Instead of packing a sad lunch thrown together at the last minute, people could walk into their own kitchens and decide what to eat whatever they pleased, whenever they pleased.
For people whose jobs allowed them to work from home, they had a sense of freedom in the work day that had never been experienced before. As students, many of us probably experienced this same kind of freedom. There’s obviously something to be said for leaving the house and being around other people, but the longer work from home options stuck around, the more comfortable people became with them, and the more people started to prefer them.
Now, as vaccinations roll out, many places are ending work from home options, much to the dismay of many employees. Many people do not want to return to the office, and commuting is a big part of that.
Commuting, whether via personal vehicle or public transit, can be costly, it’s time-consuming, and it’s really boring. Now that workers have seen an alternative, it’s going to be a slog to convince everybody to go back to the way things used to be. Commuting has always been a cause for complaint, but it’s going to feel like an absolute waste of time now that people have seen that they can do work productively and effectively from home.
What a lot of companies are realizing as they try to end work from home options is that a lot of people don’t want to come back. The obvious solution here is to allow anyone who wants to, to continue working from home.
There’s another solution though, one that would benefit more than just office workers. Whenever the work from home debate comes up, inevitably, there are people who point out that it’s something of a privilege to have been able to work from home in the first place. A cashier can’t exactly work from home, nor could an electrician or a hairstylist.
Unless you literally run a business out of your home, everybody has a commute. Paying people, in some form, for their commute could motivate workers to return to the office as well as fairly compensate every worker for time taken out of their day that is ultimately used in service of their employer.
There are, as with anything, issues and challenges. What if employers start refusing to hire people with long commutes? What if someone ends up making more simply because they live further away? How is that fair?
If office jobs are so desperate to get their staff to return to the office though, they have to try something. Whether it means clocking in the second you leave your door to begin your commute, or being compensated for money spent on gas or bus fare, or indeed working from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. instead of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., because your commute actually starts at 7 a.m. and that’s part of the work day, it’s worth considering.