Without using the words “unprecedented”, “uncertain”, or “terrible”, I think we can all agree that navigating the state of the world this past year has been challenging to say the absolute least. The pandemic has forced us to restructure every aspect of our lives, heavily edit the types of interactions we have with others, and to take an internal inventory of our true priorities.
Some of the biggest changes have occurred in the workplace. “Essential” labour has been coined as a debatably legitimate term, prime shopping mall parking spots have been reserved for curb-side pickup and OOO (owl noise for “Out of Office”) has taken on a once unimaginable new meaning.
Office culture, specifically, looks a lot different today than it did this time last year. For many, the boardroom has moved to the living room, the break room to the kitchen, inboxes are overflowing, and we’ve all had to become fluent in the software called Zoom. While we’ve done our very best to make do and create a workspace that works for us, one critical aspect of the workday has been widely overlooked: the commute. Whether it be a long drive, a short walk, or a medium subway ride, the commute is an integral part of the workday and one that cannot afford to be forgotten.
While commuting is full of its fair share of small annoyances — like traffic and long coffee shop lines, it’s also one of the most important parts of the workday. When the world was more, shall we say, normal, the act of commuting allowed for some uninterrupted personal time before focus shifted to, well, work. Maybe it was spent listening to a podcast, or reading a new book, or just sitting in some much needed silence, but the time in between home and work created a space for self-care… even if we didn’t realize it at the time.
Now, obviously, no one is physically commuting anywhere. Instead, they are telecommuting, which Google has so helpfully defined as “the practice of working from home, making use of the internet, email, and the telephone.” This year has forced employers to ask themselves, “How many jobs can actually be done out of office?” The natural follow up to that question is of course, “How many should?” Studies have shown that the act of commuting can positively affect their interactions with other people, their approach and attitude to their work, and they improve their levels of self-awareness. However, working from home also has some great benefits: it’s proven to be more productive, gives you the chance to create a personalized office space, is more sustainable, saves you money, and is much more flexible. Working remotely also counteracts some of the negative health issues that can come from the office commute, like elevated cholesterol and blood sugar.
We’ve all heard the platitude that tells us not to take work home with us, which was good advice before it became the only option. Many jobs have introduced the option in recent years for their employees to work from home either permanently or for the majority of the work week. While the option to choose your work environment has been temporarily suspended, it looks like working remotely will continue long past this is all over. (Is it still okay to say that?) While the benefits to working from home are very appealing, there are also some drawbacks to seriously consider as well. When your work and home spaces are combined, it’s very easy for your work/life balance to become blurred, thus increasing your levels of stress and anxiety.
However, we have the ability to create and maintain boundaries in our homes that allow us to separate the work and home environments from one another, even when they’re technically in the same space. How you may ask? By reintroducing the commute. Now, we’re not suggesting you wake up extra early before your first meeting and walk to your closed office and back. But if that’s what helps you, we don’t judge. What we are suggesting, however, is taking the extra time to create a morning routine that will allow you to experience the same separation between your work and home selves that that subway ride or walk once did. Yes, that’s right, we are suggesting you fake a commute! While it may sound silly, a fake commute creates the much needed opportunities for meditation, thinking through your thoughts, and brightening up your morning!
Here are some great ways to build a fake commute:
It is incredibly important to create a morning routine that has absolutely nothing to do with the work you’re going to spend the bulk of your day doing. Now, don’t let the word “routine” scare you… we’re not trying to trick you into doing more work. The beauty of a morning routine lies in the fact that it is completely tailored to you and your own individual needs. There are no boxes to tick or instructions to follow. You are setting yourself up to be more personally productive for your day by doing things that make you feel good… what’s better than that?! Your morning routine could be as simple as doing some skincare, getting to the next chapter in your novel, getting a quick workout in, or watching some funny videos on Youtube.
Okay, fine. We are telling you to leave your place. Maybe you live down the street from a great coffee shop that you’ve never tried, in a residential area great for walking, or have a drive-thru spot that makes the best bagels. Whatever the case may be, it can be worthwhile for you to break up your pre-work morning by getting in your car or on your own feet and creating a change of scenery before some screen time.
Whether it’s five, fifteen, or a whole hour earlier than the sound of your first alarm going off, taking some extra time to wake up and focus on how you’re feeling can drastically change the course of your day. Journalling in the morning is a great way to let off some steam, give yourself some undivided attention, and set out some goals and intentions for the next twenty-four hours. If freehand journalling feels like too much pressure, there are great daily prompted journals that take just a few minutes to fill out. In fact, our favourite one is actually called “The Five Minute Journal”! For the curious amongst you, The Five Minute Journal invites you to write brief notes inspired by prompts including: gratitude, prioritizing your day, 3 amazing things, inspiring quotes, daily affirmation, and end of day self reflection. It’s the perfect way to focus on the right things and boost your happiness and belief in yourself!
You need to get dressed for work. And that means putting on an entire outfit, not just the pieces that are visible in your Zoom square. Getting dressed for a work day tricks our brains into thinking that we’re actually going to work, and not just to the kitchen table. While it’s much easier, and much more tempting, to just roll out of bed and to your desk, taking the time to pick out an outfit that is not only more office appropriate than your taco printed pyjama bottoms, but more importantly makes you feel good, is a great way to separate “work you” from “Netflix you”.
If you live alone, it’s important to understand the negative effects of isolation and make an effort to combat them. You and a coworker could plan virtual drinks after a long day, or if you’re tired of the office you could shoot your best friend a Facetime! Maybe you want to meet new people, as you’ve forgotten what strangers look like. Many bookclubs, for example, have gone online and are always happy to welcome new members!
If you live with your partner, roommates, or family, it may be worth your while to set up some non-work or school related activities for you all to enjoy during the week, like a movie marathon or a game night!
You need to get out of bed. There, we said it. Your work space and your unwinding space cannot be the same space. It’s important to set up a spot of your home that is designated for work, and work only. Don’t take your laptop into bed with you to finish that spreadsheet, and don’t scroll through your Instagram feed instead of your inbox. This is probably the hardest part about remote work, but arguably the most important.
I think we can all agree that the virtual commute beats the actual commute in many ways. While we may have all started to miss the things we once complained about – people in our personal space, a Volkswagen doing 15 in a 30, and being told the banana loafs are sold old; we instead have the unique opportunity to create our own, potentially more productive and enjoyable workspace. The best part? It’s only a short commute away!