How important is… my commute when choosing a job?

Do the maths

This topic may seem quite minor compared to others I’ve discussed so far, as to many people the commute is something that you simply get on with. Let me frame it this way though… a forty five minute commute is an hour and a half a day. That’s seven and a half hours a week. Or thirty five to forty hours a month – effectively a whole working week.

Would you be willing to compromise in other areas to get some of that time back? Of course, there are factors that sometimes mean commuting is unavoidable, but if your commute is unpleasant then that’s a lot of time wasted being unhappy.

Planes, trains, and automobiles

Having lived in London I can honestly say that my commute was the worst part of my day. I hated the tube. It was always overcrowded, there was rarely a seat, and the heating was constantly on full blast. In the winter I would turn up my headphones to full volume in an attempt to drown out the cacophony of coughs and sneezes. The summer was arguably even worse, cooking alive in my suit whilst trying to angle my face away from the armpit of a sweaty stranger (apologies for the mental image).

The award for the worst commute of my life though would have to go to a consulting role that involved a two hour flight at 6am on a Monday morning. A note to anyone considering consulting as a career – ‘opportunity to travel’ is consultant speak for ‘extreme commuting.’

A long commute is of course much less of an issue if you enjoy the mode of travel. Trains can be quite pleasant if you can avoid rush hour and have some space to chill out and read a book or watch your favourite TV show. Commuting in the car was never so bad for me either, as I like driving and happily stuck a podcast or audiobook on. I know some people who really don’t like driving though, and could do without the expense of running a car. Different strokes for different folks.

When considering taking a job, it is definitely worth giving the journey a trial run one morning to see if you could picture yourself doing it twice a day every day for a prolonged period.

Remote working

Maybe you don’t want to commute at all and are already planning what to do with those extra 35 hours a month. There are plenty of jobs out there these days that can be done remotely, and more employers are waking up the fact that they don’t need their employees to be in the same office or even on the same continent to get results. So many jobs are tied to physical spaces when they really don’t need to be. In one of my consulting roles I would commute the best part of two hours a day to sit in silence for 95% of it and work on my laptop. What was the point?

Becoming a ‘digital nomad’ means that as long as you’ve got a laptop, phone, and an internet connection then you can work and communicate with people from anywhere in the world. It doesn’t matter if  you’re in your home office or on a beach, as long as the work gets done. You’re in control of your own environment and can work in the way you see fit.

As a freelancer, I am of course completely biased towards remote working, so I should balance this out a bit. In my blog on teams, I’ve already discussed how it can get lonely working remotely on your own. Also, can you honestly say that you would be productive at home? It’s definitely worth having a trial run before committing to a remote role and then realising your house is a treasure trove of distractions. The most dangerous distractions are the ones that feel productive. It’s frighteningly easy to do a few ‘quick’ household chores and then realise that half your morning is gone.

Flexibility

Maybe you’re somewhere in between. You want less time commuting but don’t want to become a full time remote worker. Plenty of jobs offer the option to work from home for one or two days per week, which might be just enough to stop the commute becoming too stale. It’s important to make sure you’re in a team that fully supports this though. I’ve worked with managers who clearly had outdated views on working from home, and struggled to understand how someone could be productive away from the office. Why bother taking your work from home day if the manager will think you’ve been skiving off? It only works if the trust is there.

Some employers are willing to be more flexible with their hours than others. Perhaps you’re better suited to starting early and finishing early, or vice versa, which could in turn make the commute a lot more manageable. Does it really matter to your employer, as long as the work gets done?  If flexibility is important to you, then make sure your job reflects that.

This series is looking at some important questions to ask yourself if you still haven’t got a clue what you want to do for a living. Check out my article about how answering these questions will help. I’ve already talked about the importance of salary, teams, work/life balance, and managers.