Coronavirus pandemic likely improved your commute to work

Can you safely commute to the office during the COVID-19 pandemic? – Ideas

Coronavirus pandemic likely improved your commute to work

If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything about how we work, it’s that our usual routines are not set in stone.

Flexible teams are collaborating in inventive new ways, traditional workspaces are being transformed, and the health and comfort of employees is a bigger priority than ever.

But while we can make our offices a secure place to work, getting there can still pose a real problem. How can you commute safely to the office in a way that protects both yourself and your colleagues? 

As companies evolve to meet a new set of demands, the daily commute doesn’t have to be so rigidly defined. In this article, we’ll discuss how to find the commute that’s right for your situation.

Finding the right commute for you

For something we tend to do on autopilot, our daily commute has a profound impact on our well-being. Research by the University of the West of England found that adding an extra 20 minutes to a commute has the same effect on job satisfaction as receiving a 19 percent pay cut. A slightly improved commute can have a big effect on your overall happiness.

The factors that determine how you get to and from the office can seem they’re beyond your control, but as workplaces reopen, there’s never been a better time to rethink your commuting habits. Let’s take a look at some of the considerations to bear in mind.

How often do you need to go into the office?

As offices begin to reopen, many will operate with reduced capacities and on rotating schedules to minimize crowding and create personal space. This might mean splitting teams into two or more groups to be switched in and out over the course of a month, or offering those who are still able to work remotely the option to visit the office less frequently.

Figure out how often you need to be at the office, and then adapt your commute to fit around this schedule. Having to travel less often frees you up to take a longer, quieter route or to use a different mode of transportation entirely. Hopping on your bike just one or two days a week is less daunting a prospect than cycling to work every day.

How far away is the office?

Distance is the biggest factor in how we decide to travel, but it can be a red herring when figuring out the best and safest way to get to work.

If you’re living in the city, a bike can beat public transportation over the same distance, especially at busy times of the day. In less connected areas, driving might be the only way to commute safely.

Play around with route planning apps, Google Maps or Citymapper, to see a selection of commuting options you might not have considered.

There is another way to reduce the distance to the office: Bring the office closer to you. A dedicated workspace close to where you live reduces travel times, enhances your work-life balance, and gives you the option of commuting safely and with confidence.

Where is the nearest public transportation?

Before COVID-19, the commute to and from the office looked radically different depending on where in the world you live.

In cities with sprawling and well-established public transportation networks, it meant cramming into crowded trains and retreating into your happy place.

In suburbs where public transportation is less reliable—or simply nonexistent—it ly meant spending hours behind the wheel.

WeWork 332 S Michigan Ave in Chicago.

Local governments advise against nonessential use of public transportation during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen passenger numbers slashed on subways and metro systems globally. In New York City, overall subway ridership in December was at 30 percent of pre-pandemic levels, while on London’s tube network, passenger numbers in January were at just 16 percent of normal levels.

Despite this, crowding on station platforms and inside trains is still a common sight during rush hour. If you’re able to use public transportation and can stagger your work hours, check your transit system’s website for advice on how to avoid the busiest times.

Can you drive?

Traveling to the office by car is a surefire way to maintain a safe distance from other commuters, but there are downsides.

Parking can be expensive or difficult to find, and as more of us return to the workplace, the amount of traffic on the road is creeping upward toward pre-pandemic levels.

This congestion is made worse by a sharp drop in the use of public transportation. In Los Angeles, for example, car usage has almost returned to normal.

Depending on where you live, you might be able to use your car for just a segment of the commute. Consider using park-and-ride services to drop your vehicle off outside the most congested areas, then travel the rest of the way by train, bus, or bike.

What is the safest way to commute during the coronavirus pandemic?

Research from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) finds that COVID-19 spreads more easily indoors because of the reduced ability to socially distance and the limited natural airflow. To commute safely, spend as much time as possible outdoors, avoiding enclosed spaces subways, waiting areas, and train stations. 

Steering clear of crowds helps to minimize your chances of catching and spreading the virus, so plan a route that avoids passing through busy transit hubs, even if it takes you a little longer to get to where you’re going.

Cycling or walking

During the pandemic, many cities upgraded their cycling routes to encourage more people to commute to the office by bike. If you’re not confident on two wheels, practice the route on the weekend when there’s less traffic, and stagger your working hours to avoid cycling at busy times. 

WeWork 75 E Santa Clara St in San Jose, CA.

If you’d rather not arrive at the office looking you’ve just run a marathon, consider investing in an electric bike. Sales of e-bikes skyrocketed in 2020 as millions of commuters ditched busy trains and congested roads. Your employer might offer incentives to cycle to work, too, a discount or reimbursement for a new bike purchase.

Is it safe to take public transportation?

As passenger numbers plummeted in 2020, so too did the risk of catching or spreading the virus on public transportation. This risk reduction could quickly be reversed once commuters begin using trains, buses, and subways again, so most cities are continuing to recommend against all but essential use of public transportation networks.

Not everybody has the option to commute by car or bike. If you have no alternative but to use public transportation to get to the office, the CDC has a set of guidelines to help you protect yourself and others while commuting safely.

WeWork 199 Bishopsgate in London.

Here are some tips for safer commuting:

  • Keep up-to-date. Check your local transit authority’s website or download its app for the latest information on train times, schedule changes, and service cancellations. Train frequencies may change, and certain stations may be closed at times to avoid overcrowding, so check before you travel.
  • Avoid touching surfaces. Use contactless payment at ticket barriers where you can. Buy your tickets online to avoid using touchscreen machines at the station, and avoid high-touch areas such as handrails, trash cans, and elevator buttons.
  • Stay six feet apart. This might not be physically possible during peak hours, so try to schedule your working day around busy travel times. Leave as many empty seats as you can between you and the other passengers, and pay attention to social distancing signage and temporary one-way systems.
  • Open a window. Maintain a constant flow of fresh air through the train carriage or bus by opening a window. Ventilation reduces the concentration of viral particles in the air. If you’re in a taxi or rideshare, ask the driver to open the windows or set the AC to non-recirculation mode.
  • Use hand sanitizer. Before and after you ride, rub your hands with hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol. Be on the lookout for hand sanitizing stations near turnstiles, and remember to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water once you reach your destination.

Is it safe to use ridesharing apps Uber and Lyft?

Ridesharing apps provide a convenient alternative to public transportation, especially when traveling late at night or early in the morning. At first glance, jumping into a taxi rather than catching a train seems the more sensible option in a pandemic, but are Uber and Lyft safe to use?

While drivers are instructed to wear a mask and sanitize their vehicles between rides, sharing a car still presents a risk to both the rider and the driver. There’s no way to keep six feet apart and, because not all COVID-19 carriers have symptoms, it’s not possible to know whether you, the driver, or any of the car’s previous occupants are infectious. 

For these reasons, the CDC advises against the use of ridesharing apps for all but the most urgent journeys. If you do find yourself in need of an Uber or a Lyft, here are some guidelines to bear in mind.

  • Wear a mask and make sure your driver does too. This is now the law for passengers and drivers in taxis across the country. Uber drivers are required to upload a picture of themselves wearing their mask before they can begin a shift. Masks help to reduce the number of infectious airborne particles you exhale, but they’re not totally effective at preventing the spread of the virus. Use them in conjunction with these other tips.
  • Open the windows or switch the AC to the correct mode. Replenish the air inside the car by rolling down the windows on both sides. If it’s too cold to have the windows open, ensure that the AC is switched on and that it’s not recirculating the same stale air.
  • Don’t travel with other passengers. Both Uber and Lyft suspended their carpooling services at the beginning of the pandemic and instructed their drivers to refuse to allow passengers from different households to ride at the same time. If your ride arrives and there’s another passenger inside, request another car.
  • Use hand sanitizer after sitting down. After touching the door handle to enter the car, use a sanitizer that contains 60 percent alcohol to clean your hands, then avoid touching any other surfaces inside the vehicle. If the ride isn’t prepaid, use contactless payment rather than physical cash.
  • Sit as far away from the driver as you can. If you can’t sit six feet away from the driver, sit as far away as you can. The front seat is bounds, so use the rear seat on the opposite side of the car to get as much distance as possible between you and the driver. In bigger vehicles, use the seats that are farthest back.

How to commute safely

While there’s no completely safe way to commute during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are still ways to make your commute safer. The way you choose to travel—or whether you choose to travel at all—depends on your circumstances.

Cycling and walking are the safest ways to commute, but may only be possible if you don’t have too far to travel.

(According to one study, more than 58 percent of office workers in New York City live within a 15-minute bike ride of a WeWork.)

The amount of New York City residents who live within a 15-minute walk or bike ride to a WeWork location.

The subway is safer at quieter times of the day, but should be used only by those who need it. And no matter how you travel, there are steps you can take to mitigate the risk of spreading the virus.

As teams return to the workplace, employers are collaborating with workers to find ways to make the daily commute safer, shorter, and better.

That might mean offering free access to local bike share services, using corporate shuttle buses, or scheduling shifts to start and finish outside peak travel hours.

Or it could mean shortening commutes by providing employees with a convenient and dedicated workspace closer to where they live.

WeWork On Demand gives you access to more than 190 WeWork locations in 17 cities across the United States, with no monthly commitment.

You can book a dedicated workspace for $29 per day, helping to ensure that your teams can collaborate in a productive, focus-enhancing environment without the hassle or risk of a long commute.

To unlock hundreds of locations around the world, WeWork All Access grants you access to shared workspace in more than 30 countries.

The health and safety of everyone in the office is more of a priority now than it’s ever been. WeWork has reimagined the workplace of tomorrow, with enhanced cleaning processes, new layouts, improved HVAC systems, and helpful signage to make returning to the office a safe decision.

To get started, download the WeWork On Demand app and create an account to begin exploring locations near you. You can search, book, and pay for available office space from $29 per day, and reserve meeting rooms from $10 per hour. Visit WeWork All Access for access to shared workspace in hundreds of locations around the world.

Steve Hogarty is a writer and journalist based in London. He is the travel editor of City AM newspaper and the deputy editor of City AM Magazine, where his work focuses on technology, travel, and entertainment.

Interested in workspace? Get in touch.

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Column: Will we still commute after the epidemic?

Coronavirus pandemic likely improved your commute to work

LONDON (Reuters) – In the advanced economies, the coronavirus epidemic is ly to accelerate long-term structural changes in the location of work and accommodation and the transport systems that link them.

FILE PHOTO: A general view of a busy westbound platform during an evening of signal failures at Earls Court tube station in London, Britain, January 2, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Coombs

But the rate of change will be tempered by enormous inertia in real estate and transit systems to accommodate a widespread shift in work from central cities to the suburbs and secondary cities.

The current distribution of land use is the product of the railways in the 19th century and the automobile in the 20th century, which allowed people to travel much greater distances from home to the workplace.

While many executives and professionals can afford to live in central areas of large cities if they want to take advantage of networking opportunities and cultural facilities, most workers are forced to live in suburbs and satellite communities where housing is cheaper.

The result is a twice daily commute from home to work and back that is expensive in terms of money, time and energy – especially in megacities and other primary cities – and also exacts a significant penalty in terms of physical and mental health.

Over the last three decades, however, improvements in communications technology – including email, instant messaging and cheap video-conferencing – have made remote working more feasible, even for service sector firms which rely on contact between colleagues and between suppliers and customers.


In Britain, the proportion of the workforce working remotely had been increasingly steadily, albeit from a low base (“Coronavirus and home working in the U.K. labour market”, Office for National Statistics (ONS), March 2020).

Even before the coronavirus epidemic, 5% of Britain’s workforce was working mainly from home, according to the ONS survey, with 12% of respondents saying they had worked from home at least one day during the week prior to the survey, which was conducted in 2019.

Full-time and part-time home working was most common in the traditional commuter regions of London and the South East, as well as among older and more senior workers, and those in the highest-paid occupations.

The implication is that working from home, at least part of the time, to reduce commuting or avoid it altogether was desirable, and many more employees would have d the option if it was available.

More widespread use was held back by stigma, with remote working seen as a privilege reserved for high-status individuals and experienced workers nearing the end of their careers.

Enforced working from home for many office employees during the epidemic, however, has proved it is technically feasible and has lowered the barriers to its social acceptability, which is ly to speed up more widespread adoption.


London’s workers spent an average of 1 hour 32 minutes travelling to and from work every day in 2019, compared with an average of just under 1 hour in the rest of the country.

As a result, London’s workers spent an extra 140 hours per year travelling to and from work compared with their counterparts in other regions (“Transport Statistics Great Britain”, U.K. Department for Transport, 2020).

The longest commutes of all were into central London, with round trips averaging 1 hour and 48 minutes per day, with those travelling by rail taking journeys averaging a lengthy 2 hours and 18 minutes.

other megacities, London relies on public transport to shuttle millions of workers between the centre and periphery as well as satellite towns (“Coronavirus and travel to work”, Office for National Statistics, 2020).

Before the epidemic, two-thirds of Inner London’s workers used public transport (rail, underground and buses) to get to work compared with just 15% in secondary cities and less than 10% in the rest of the country.

Public transport is far more energy-efficient than private cars, which helps explain why London’s per capita energy consumption for transport is less than half of that in other regions of Britain.

Nonetheless, commuting still imposes a heavy penalty in terms of fares, energy consumption and time absorbed, as well as impacting adversely on physical and mental health.

Even before the epidemic, researchers had identified that crowded public transport accelerated transmission for respiratory diseases such as influenza.


Transport improvements over the 19th and 20th centuries transformed the size and shape of cities. Now improvements in communications technology are ly to remake them again.

Increased remote working implies a reduction in the need for central offices and their ancillary services, with a partially offsetting increase in demand for working space in the suburbs, secondary cities and rural areas.

Much of this increased work space will be located inside dwellings, translating into pressure for bigger homes with more rooms, often further from megacity centres.

The principal constraint on the more widespread use of remote working is ly to come from the relative inflexibility of the real estate and transport systems.

There are roughly 24.4 million dwellings in England, with an average of just 180,000 new dwellings created each year over the last 10 years, an increase of just 0.7% per year.

In the short and medium term, therefore, the increased demand for working from home outside central cities will have to be met from an existing housing stock that is essentially fixed.

The inflexibility of the housing stock explains why the epidemic has depressed central city home values and rents while sending prices and rents in other areas surging.

Commercial real estate faces a similar problem. There is an emerging oversupply of work space and services space in central cities, with not enough in other areas.

Conversions to non-commercial use in central areas and the construction of more space in other areas will take years.


In response to the epidemic and pressure for more remote working, commercial real estate owners and employers have promoted the concept of “hybrid” working.

Business surveys show employers envisaging workers spending 60% of their time in the office, while employee surveys generally show a preference for working in the office 40% or even just 20% of the time.

Hybrid working is often portrayed as a compromise that offers the best of both worlds. But it could easily provide the worst of both.

Employees would still need to live close enough to the central workplace to commute two or three days each week, foregoing the advantage of relocating further away in search of cheaper accommodation and more space.

Employees would also have to find more space to work from home, pushing up their housing costs, while continuing to pay commuter fares at least some days each week, which would probably work out more expensive.

In a hybrid model, employers would see their need for office space decrease by 40-80%, but only if they can implement a “flexible working” model (i.e. hot-desking), which will be controversial after the epidemic.

Commercial real estate owners would still see demand for space decline significantly, with the oversupply of space ly to persist for years, depressing rents.

Finally, transit system operators would see a big decline in the number of daily commuter journeys, reducing their economies of scale, and probably pushing up fares per journey.

The epidemic and enforced working from home have shown the potential for a revolutionary shift in the location of work and accommodation, but the enormous inertia of the real estate and transport systems may delay much of the shift.

John Kemp is a Reuters market analyst. The views expressed are his own.

Related columns:

– Will coronavirus trigger a megacity exodus? (Reuters, Oct. 1)

– Disease X and rethinking the future of cities (Reuters, Aug 27)

– Megacities after coronavirus (Reuters, Aug. 25)

– Must the metropolis mutate for the virus? (Reuters, Aug. 13)

– Coronavirus is dark side of an urban interconnected world (Reuters, May 22)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Where Did the Commute Time Go?

Coronavirus pandemic likely improved your commute to work

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced a large fraction of the global workforce to work from home, which has led to an almost complete elimination of the daily commute to work.

How have workers reallocated their commuting time? More generally, how has the forced transition to working from home (WFH) affected how people work and interact with one another? And are these effects different between managers and non-managers?

To answer these questions, we examined detailed time-use diaries of 1,300 U.S.

-based knowledge workers, which we collected in the summers of 2019 and 2020 — a date range that gave us the opportunity to document the extent to which daily schedules have changed since the Covid-19 pandemic hit. We focused in particular on when and how long people work, and what type of activities they engage in as they do.

Predictably, we found that the most visible effect of the shift to WFH is a large decline in time spent commuting (41 minutes/day). But different types of workers used that time very differently: Independent employees (i.e.

, those without managerial responsibilities) reallocated much of it to personal activities, whereas managers just worked longer hours and spent more time in meetings. For managers, the increase in work hours more than offset the loss in commuting time: Their work day increased on average by 56 minutes, and the time they spent replying to emails increased by 13 minutes.

These changes were even larger for managers employed by large firms, who spent 22 minutes more per day in meetings, and 16 more minutes responding to emails.

These data suggest a significant post-Covid reorganization of work, especially for managers. Organizations and managers will need to understand the details of these changes if they hope to adapt successfully to our new work-from-home reality.

Survey Findings

We collected detailed information on the daily activities undertaken by large cross-sections of U.S.-based knowledge workers, sampled across three waves: August 2019 (615 participants), June 2020 (203 participants), and August 2020 (545 participants). The workers typically commuted to work before the Covid pandemic.

Participants were asked to recall the most representative working day from their week and then document the main activities they engaged in during that day (type of activity, start time, and end time).

These data allowed us to measure the start and end times, duration, and the detailed types of more than 20,000 activities across 1300 respondents.

When we compared pre- and post-Covid patterns, we made the following findings:

1) An overall decrease in commuting time of 41 minutes, and a 37-minute increase in personal activities, especially in the morning. Many respondents extended their hours beyond 5:00 pm.

2) No increase in total time spent working, but an increase in work-day spans. Among all of our 2020 respondents, the total time between the start of the first work activity and the end of the last one increased by 36.3 minutes.

3) Significant variation in how daily schedules changed for managers and independent employees:

  • Managers were able to recoup only 23 minutes of personal time, whereas independent employees gained more than an hour.
  • The work-day span increased by 56 minutes for managers but did not change for independent employees.

4) Significant changes in how managers’ workdays were organized, but none for independent employees:

  • Managers were 12%. more ly to engage in any type of interactive activity (e.g., in-person and virtual meetings, workshops, work-related phone calls).
  • Managers were 6% more ly to spend focused time reading and replying to emails.
  • Managers were 8% less ly to engage in work-related lunches or leisure activities.

These findings were especially strong for managers employed in large firms (250 employees or more), where the needs for coordination are presumably greater.

Our survey could not capture all the interactions that take place daily via email or such messaging platforms as Slack and Teams. The increases in meeting times we document may thus represent a lower bound for the increase in the time spent interacting and communicating during the pandemic.

Impact on Employees

What are the effects of these changes on employees’ wellbeing? And are new work schedules changing preferences for WFH?

Surprisingly, given the grim reality many of us are confronting at the moment, we found that respondents don’t feel that the pandemic has changed their overall sense of wellbeing or the share of time they are in a positive mood.

Why would that be? Perhaps it’s that many workers — managers and independent employees a — have started to see new benefits of WFH arrangements.

Some 58% of respondents from the 2020 survey waves viewed those arrangements more positively than before the pandemic, whereas only 13% viewed them more negatively.

None of this represents a dramatic shift in preferences, however. In 2020, 45% of our respondents told us they wished they could spend 3 days or more working from home, but even before the pandemic, 37% of them already felt that way.

While it is too early to know whether the changes documented in this study will persist in a post-pandemic world, there are clear indications that at least some of them will — after all, almost half of our respondents told us they would prefer to continue primarily working from home. So what can organizations do to best adapt to this reality?

This study reinforces the notion that the benefits of WFH arrangements are ly to be heterogeneous across workers and firms.

As such, it is imperative for organizations to understand the subtle ways in which the shift to WFH affects the quantity, type, and quality of interactions across their workforces.

It’s probably not a good idea to increase coordination through top-down approaches — for example, by introducing centrally planned online forums or virtual watercoolers. Such an approach could well overload workers who have already adjusted to the new WFH reality through additional virtual meetings.

Rather than focusing on the quantity of interactions, organizations may be better served by improving their quality. This is an area where technology can really help.

For example, emerging human-computer interaction technologies — such as augmented and virtual reality — hold promise for improving the quality of remote interactions among team members who are distributed across different locations (some at home, some in the office), and could provide access to shared tools such as whiteboards, simulations, and shared social spaces. Similarly, it will be important to support workers as they adjust to the different rhythms and distractions of their WFH settings.

Technology can help workers organize their tasks in a way that allows them to cope resiliently with interruptions.

For example, Shamsi Iqbal at Microsoft Research, along with her colleagues, has been exploring how technology can help workers break down large tasks into smaller ones, and how completing these so-called microtasks can allow them make consistent progress toward their productivity goals.

Organizations may also want to consider providing additional organizational supports, such as AI digital assistants, which might soon achieve a level of sophistication close to that of human assistants.

Such digital assistants would be able to help managers working from home (who do not have immediate access to a human assistant, and experience heightened demands for coordination) to increase their productivity by handling coordination tasks such as scheduling meetings, locating information, and sharing access to resources. Microsoft’s Cortana and Google’s Duplex are advanced examples of such digital assistants.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly: In our new WFH reality, no matter what shape it ultimately takes, organizations will need to actively help workers maintain a healthy separation between their work and their personal lives.

This might mean reminding workers to avoid undue overtime or to measure with more precision what they do. Curiously, this may involve virtually recreating the forced breaks between work and life that came with the now-bygone commute.

In other words: The commute is dead! Long live the commute!

This work was in part supported by NSF grants.


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