The daily commute has always been met with distaste by workers. And whilst COVID is responsible for depriving the world of many experiences, pleasures and basic activities, the commuting-slog is arguably not one we’ve been missing. However, many businesses are now preparing phased ‘return to work’ plans which will, of course, see the resurrection of the dreaded commute.
Some people will be feeling excited about this move forward. Whilst others will be feeling more apprehensive at the prospect; many of us have become quite accustomed to our new way of living and working. And, whilst the devastating consequences of the pandemic are indisputable (as well as the strain it’s put on many families and individuals); more peaceful mornings, garden lunch breaks, meals with our families, a better work-life balance and the autonomy to plan our days to suit us, are things that many will miss.
It’s therefore important for businesses to recognise that a period of adjustment is likely to be required during this time and to be mindful of the ways that they can support employees to have a more positive commuting experience.
Let’s revisit a time before COVID… we were living in a highly interconnected world where commuting was only becoming more hectic. Statistics analysed by the BBC concluded that 40% of workers conduct some form of work task while on their way to work, and that this often contributed to feelings of being overwhelmed or snowed under by work. Addressing this balance is a key challenge for top-level HR policy-making; while remote working is becoming ever more relevant (now more than ever!), there are some workers who are likely to return to a traditional commute once lockdown restrictions have been fully lifted.
The commute cannot be removed altogether: there will always be critical staff who need to commute to work. What the move towards remote working enables is a greater apportioning of budgets towards individual employees. Subsidised travel is already widespread in UK companies but, as explored by Monster, the practice largely covers public transport. A business with a larger budget for key employees could look towards subsidising travel and making it efficient at that; workforce managers can utilise the online resources at their disposal to try and assist employees with picking out a vehicle that suits their personal commute. Reallocating resources no longer used due to a greater number of WFH employees is an easy way to improve the commute for a greater portion of the workforce.
Boosting the work-life balance
There’s also the matter of making the commute more pleasant. Employees already feel compelled to deal with work matters before they’re even in the office – and this happens at all levels. This can either be through pressure to ‘always be on’, or the idea of getting ahead of workload before arriving in the office. ‘Always-on’ is not necessarily a benefit to the business; a Forbes report found that 20% of employees who operate in this way report mental exhaustion, and 26% experienced significant intrusion in their private life. In the long run, this can lead to acute stress problems, reduced productivity, and wider scale HR headaches. HR-led directives to banish work from the commute is a great way to start, and will help staff to arrive at work refreshed and ready, not already bogged down by stress.
Staggering the day
Flexible/remote working presents opportunities for in-office staff, as many of us have experienced over the last couple of months. A major issue with the commute is the perceived impact of hitches in the journey on staff. Train services that are inconsistent and car breakdowns are an example where a member of staff can be impacted for a long period of time. Consider staggering your workday and introducing flexible working for all; this will help staff to focus on their work rather than the anxiety of making sure their commute is timed correctly.
Top level HR can lead employee well-being through directives that support their commute. At a time when more employees are working from home, greater flexibility can be given to existing measures. Ensuring the commute is a stress-free period of the day will help the wider productivity of the business and prevent issues further down the road.