If you ever worked in an office, you likely have your own war stories about your commute in the Before Times. Whether you spent your time sitting in car traffic or delayed on public transport, it can be one of the most stressful times of the day.
Americans spend more than 100 hours a year commuting to work, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That's more than the two weeks of vacation time (80 hours) taken by workers in a normal year. Over ten years, the number has increased by over a minute in 10 years.
You would think everyone would be happy about working from home and avoiding the commute. Why does the recent talk about a fake commute hold such appeal?
What is a fake commute?
A fake commute recreates the third space of a commute. The third space is the space between when work and home life. It too often disappears when you work from home. Usually, there’s only a desktop between your workspace and family life. Sometimes, not even a door separates the two worlds.
Creating your own moment between work and home could be a critical escape valve for mental health. It may even help with your productivity over time.
What has been the impact of working from home on mental health this year?
Lockdown has been a massive social experiment on our working day, especially for office workers. Without a commute, reports show many are struggling with their work-life balance.
Oracle research from a survey of 12,000 people, reported negative mental health side effects for many people working from home, including -
- sleep deprivation (40 percent)
- poorer physical health (35 percent)
- a drop in happiness at home (33 percent)
- obstacles in family relationships (30 percent)
- isolation from peers (28 percent)
They are scary statistics. When work never stops, and you are always on, it leads to mental exhaustion. A commute may not have been relaxing all the time, but it was a way to bookend the day. To decompress between work and home.
Takeaway: We need to be good managers to ourselves and tell ourselves to “go home.” Early studies show what can happen when we have not developed a routine to separate work and home life. What can you do to signal the end of the day? Reclaim the time you spent commuting. Keep the idea, though, of moving from one space to another. Whether that is taking the dog for a walk, a bike ride, a yoga class, or even a bath.
Oracle’s research of 12,000 people across 11 countries suggests 2020 is “the most stressful year ever.” Eighty-five percent reported working from home has affected their home life.
Oracle found 42 percent said they no longer feel as efficient at work when working from home. With 41 percent affected by the lack of delineation of work and home lives. They found 35 percent struggle to strike a work-life balance. While 25 percent admitted to being burnt out. A quarter of respondents reported feeling depressed.
Many have not developed a routine, let alone a language, to describe the new working conditions. The German language has an efficient word to describe this third space between work and home: ‘Feierabend’.
Feierabend describes the time when an employee finishes work and when a period of leisure and rest begins. The BBC explains it’s not only good for the employee but for the company, too:
“Feierabend has also linked to a very capitalist mentality that companies get more productivity — and therefore, more value — out of their labor force if workers are allowed clear periods of rest after work.”
As one of the interviewed said when you are wondering why no one was responding to your emails, and then you remember it is Saturday, it’s time to make a change to your work-life balance.
Takeaway: Stress, or burnout, creeps up. If you need a reason to turn off your phone, a “Feierabend” time at the end of the day will make you more productive over time. Unless you are on-call, don’t be afraid to turn off your phone until the next morning. Remember, you are not much use to anyone if you are burnt out.
Mind the Gap
Considering how many people hated commuting last year, it is surprising to hear on the media how much we miss this “third space” in our day now we work from home.
One of the funniest videos during lockdown was this video by three flatmates recreating their own fake commute in their shower. Housemates re-create their morning commute in the shower. Squashed up together with luggage, all three flatmates stand in their cubicle shower for a couple of minutes at a time to recreate their commute in the morning.
Last year, I would arrive at the office in the mornings feeling drenched in other people’s smell and sweat. I had spent an hour on public transport, either under someone’s armpit or ducking to avoid someone’s bad breath. If it was a nice day, I’d give up the tube at the closest possible stop and walk. That split decision could also make me annoyingly late.
To say I am thrilled to reclaim my 2.3 hours of commuting time per day is an understatement. That’s an extra two hours for me without all the usual stress of a real commute.
For many office workers, being thrown into the world of working from home is an adjustment. Now the novelty has worn off, the everyday reality of working from home is encroaching on their sleep and dreams.
Like masks and hand sanitizers, the fake commute is only one of the many new rituals we have created this year to cope with the pandemic. If done right, the fake commute could be one of the happier ones. You no longer are at the mercy of rush-hour traffic or crowded public transport. You can spend the time doing things you love about commutes but without all the stress. It's a way of separating the two worlds when that is not always possible.