It’s all about the journey

Love or hate it, the commute is once again becoming a reality for most organisations and their employees.

The rise of hybrid working has meant the emphasis on the commute has shifted significantly. For those working before the pandemic, it was a part of their everyday norm. However, for those starting their careers mid-pandemic, it has now become a new addition to their working days. Insights from our Journey to Workplace module show the need for organisations to further investigate the drivers and sentiments their own employees have with their commute.

Is commuting still the norm?

In pre-pandemic times, commuting was broadly accepted by most employees as the norm. For some, it was a calmer part of an otherwise busy working day – an opportunity to prepare for the meetings ahead or reflect on the main events of the day. Others dreaded the time spent stuck in traffic or standing uncomfortably on a packed train. Yet few dared to oppose or question it openly – it was simply part of having a (typically) office-based job. Is it still so? We’ve analysed data from nearly 10,000 employees who answered a set of questions about their Journey to Workplace in the past nine months1 (since pandemic restrictions started being eased globally), and found out that:

Six in ten employees were satisfied with their commute (59%). However, just over four in ten think the commute has a positive impact on their overall quality of life (43%).

Looking at data on the locations people have worked from over this period suggests that the commute is and will likely continue to be a part of most people’s lives. Across the 76,000 employees we have surveyed in this timeframe2, only the 27% who worked exclusively from home would have skipped it entirely. The 11% who worked solely in the workplace and the 62% who worked in a hybrid way (i.e. who worked from at least 2 locations, with home + workplace being the most common combination) would have travelled to and from different locations. So, although it is now much reduced compared to pre-pandemic levels, the commute has not disappeared.

What are the dealbreakers?

In a hybrid world, the time spent in the office – and therefore the frequency of the commute – may now be up for debate. In fact, the length and quality of the commute may well be one of the factors influencing how often employees will visit the workplace.

On a smaller sample3, we noted that:

Employees who had the longest commute (over 1 hour) included the smallest proportion likely to use the workplace for most of their week (only 11% said 4-5 days) and largest proportion likely to use it rarely or not at all (38% said 0-1 days). In contrast, employees with the shortest commute (15 minutes or less) were the most likely to go to the workplace for most of their time (37% chose 4-5 days) and least likely to use it for 0-1 days (19). (Figure 1)

Many organisations currently planning for their hybrid future are wondering how much will employees’ commute impact on who comes to the office and how often – will (or should?) all employees with a lengthy commute be permanently home based?

It’s the journey that matters

Our analysis reveals there may be more to commuting than simply the time travelled. When considering the main mode of travel in addition to duration, a more nuanced pattern emerges. Employees who drove their car to work were overall less likely to think their commute has a positive impact on their overall quality of life, compared to those who cycle, walk and/or run to their workplace. The difference between the two groups is particularly striking for longer commuting times.

Two in three of the employees who drive to work for any longer than 45 minutes don’t think their commute contributes positively to their quality of life (66-67%). Among those who cycle, walk or run to work, even the longest commute is associated with perceived benefits. Half of those whose ‘physically active’ commute is over one hour long believe it has a positive impact (50%), with just over one in three disagreeing (38%). (Figure 2)

While commuting duration is associated with people’s satisfaction with it – and perhaps even with their willingness to commit to the workplace fully – it is just one side of the story.

Perhaps surprisingly, it’s the journey that may matter more, and whether or not it creates the opportunity to draw additional health and wellbeing benefits.

Dreaded by some and cherished by others, the commute will probably continue to be around especially if the world of work becomes hybrid inclined, so forward-thinking organisations would be wise to gather data on their employees’ commuting patterns and take that into account. While the commute can be a dealbreaker for some, it can also attract others to the workplace.

1 Leesman Journey to Workplace, N= 9,497, Q3 2021 – Q1 2022.
Leesman Office and/or Leesman Home Working, N=75,847, Q3 2021 – Q1 2022.
3 Leesman Journey to Workplace and Days in Workplace modules, N=2,724, Q3 2021 – Q1 2022

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