Finding it hard to work from home? You might want to consider a fake commute
TORONTO -- For all of the headaches commuting can trigger, from sitting in traffic to being crammed into a busy subway car, it now seems there may have been some psychological benefit to our once-loathed daily travel routines.
Nearly eight months into the COVID-19 pandemic, as the novelty of rolling out of bed and going straight to work wears off, a growing number of people are embracing the so-called “fake commute.”
Whether waking up an hour earlier to fit in a walk before work, exercising before logging in from home, or taking 15 minutes to meditate before shifting from the role of employee to the role of parent or spouse, experts say that “commute” time is important for our mental health.
“The walls between work and non-work have completely disappeared for us. So now we have to find ways, either psychologically or otherwise to try to build up those walls again,” David Zweig, professor at the University of Toronto’s school of management, told CTVNews.ca by phone Saturday.
“We don’t have a way to psychologically separate or recover from the demands at work. In the morning, we don’t have time to think about how we are going to approach our day because we are already in the thick of it. And in the evening, when we’re done, we don’t have the time to switch off and think about something other than work.”
While it’s true that previous studies have linked commuting, especially by car, to a host of ill health effects—including higher blood sugar levels, high blood pressure, and anxiety — experts say most people now spend that time working.
For example, a recent survey of more than 10,000 Americans by researchers at the Centre for Economic Policy Research, found that 35 per cent of office workers were using time saved not commuting to put in more hours at work.
But as more Canadians continue to work from home amid the new normal, experts say it’s increasingly important to find ways to transition in and out of work mode.
“Commuting to work was the time that I spent getting ready for my day, and the time home was listening to loud music alone in my car trying to decompress,” said Zweig.
“Carving out that time, whatever it might be — going for a walk, listening to some music — is going to be good for recovery and it’s also important for us to manage our stress from work.”
As Nita Chhinzer, professor of human resources in the Department of Management at the University of Guelph, points out, even those who once dreamt of working from home are struggling with shift.
“The truth is there is a portion of the population that is interested in returning to work. This phase that we’re in is involuntary work from home. Most of us don’t have a choice,” Chhinzer told CTVNews.ca by phone on Saturday.
“The existing research on work from home has always assumed some element of voluntariness to our situation. There was an element of choice for employees, so we were more prepared and accepting of our environment.”
Chhinzer says a faux commute is an excellent way to differentiate the time spent working at home from your non-job-related time there.
“This is especially important for parents. I’ve noticed an increase in the number of parents walking their kids to school in the morning. And that helps them shift — the kids are out of the house, they’ve gone for a walk and they treat that as their commute,” she explained.
She also recommends setting up a distinct office space within the home, as far away from the bedroom as possible.