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Super commuting: is it really worth it?

Published:

February 1, 2024

Updated:

February 1, 2024

Super commuting, sometimes called ultra or mega commuting, is a rising phenomenon that can impact people differently. Some employees say it negatively affects their work-life balance and well-being, while others see it as positive. Understanding the pros and cons of a long commute to work is fundamental for companies.

Is your staff living very far from the office? Wait, first, do you know who are considered super commuters? For the sake of employee experience and your business’s growth, this is an aspect you should consider if you want to develop a thriving workforce. It affects workers personally as much as professionally, and the consequences impact your organization, too. 

Here is a little guide about how a long commute to work can be a good thing, a bad one, and most importantly, some best practices for organizations to minimize the downsides

Just a hint: super commuting in a flexible work environment has definitely better outcomes than when experienced daily.

Key information about super commuting

Definition of super commuting

Super commuting is a term used to describe a practice where workers undertake long-distance commutes to work, significantly exceeding the average commute time. This can involve traveling 90 minutes or more one way, sometimes crossing multiple zones or regions (if done by train or plane).

Super commuters might use various modes of transportation, including planes, trains, buses, and cars, and commonly make this journey for specialized jobs unavailable locally. For example, Jena might live in a town outside of London yet work in the city’s DEI sector, leading to a daily commute exceeding a three-hour round trip.

The rise of long commuting to work resulting from RTO policies

In the U.S., in 2022, 1% of people moved for a job, against 8% in 20181. Remote and hybrid work opportunities have allowed workers to apply for jobs without geographical constraints. But now that companies are forcing employees back into the office, they either need to find a job closer to their home or accept the long commute to work.

The desire to maintain a newfound work-life balance and the reluctance to move again for closer proximity to the office contribute to this increase in super commuting. For example, Jena may choose to keep her residence in a suburb while commuting to London, accepting the trade-off of travel time for a preferred lifestyle.

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A woman waiting for her train to commute to work.


The possible downsides for super commuters

The loss of work-life balance

Although your employees might rather do long commutes to work than give up on the work-life balance they’ve created wherever they live, super commuting can also negatively affect this equilibrium. The super commute often erodes their work-life balance due to the disproportionate amount of time spent traveling to and from work. 

The extended hours in transit can significantly reduce the time available for personal activities, relaxation, and family. For instance, Jena might leave home before dawn to beat traffic and return well into the evening, with little time remaining for hobbies or rest. The resulting longer workdays lead to increased fatigue and stress. This can diminish overall job satisfaction and well-being.

The stress related to super commuting

Long commutes to work are a significant source of stress, as they involve the constant risk of uncontrollable delays such as traffic jams or public transport disruptions. If your team members only come on-site a few days a week or a month, this stress can even be more intense. As they don’t come daily to the office, they especially don’t want to be late when they do. 

The unpredictability of travel time can lead to anxiety and tension. This uncertainty, coupled with the frustration of inactive time spent in traffic or waiting for delayed trains or buses, contributes to heightened stress levels. The cumulative effect of such daily strains can impact mental health, resulting in chronic stress and associated physical health risks over time.

The increase in fatigue

Especially when experienced daily, super commuting can considerably increase fatigue among workers because it drastically lengthens their workday. Early departures and late returns home leave less time for restorative sleep, while the actual travel can be physically and mentally taxing. Being confined to a car, train, or bus for extended periods contributes to a sedentary lifestyle, which can worsen feelings of tiredness. 

Additionally, the stress associated with navigating traffic jams, worrying about timetables, and standing during peak public transport hours can further drain energy levels. The cumulative effect of these factors is an increase in overall fatigue, negatively affecting performance at work and personal well-being.

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Man yawning while commuting to work.

The risk of isolation from the team and the company

In a hybrid work environment, supercommuting can also create a sense of disconnection between colleagues and the workplace, as super commuters spend limited time on-site. The considerable travel time often implies an early departure from work to return home. Super commuters can then miss post-work socializing and networking opportunities that help build relationships. 

Furthermore, the fatigue and stress associated with lengthy commutes can reduce a super commuter’s capacity to engage fully when they are in the office. This disengagement can lead to a feeling of isolation and being out of sync with the day-to-day office dynamics and informal conversations that foster a sense of community and belonging.

The higher transportation costs

Super commuting invariably inflates transportation costs, regardless of whether employees commute by car, train, metro, or plane. 

The extended distance and duration of a 2-hour commute versus a 20-minute journey are very different from a money point of view. Super commuting means higher fuel costs for drivers, more expensive and potentially multiple transit tickets for public transport users, and regular airline fares for the longest commutes. 

Each mode of transport also carries ancillary costs, such as car parking fees, seasonal ticket premiums for trains, and additional transport to and from airports. Consequently, a super commuter incurs a substantially greater financial burden than someone with a short, more conventional commute.

The potential benefits of having a long commute to work

More time to switch off after work

One of the hard things when working remotely is disconnecting from work. But when going to the office, commuting plays a huge role in enabling us to switch off from the work day. A 1-hour commute obviously gives people more time for this than a 15-minute one. This downtime creates a mental buffer that helps detach from the workday's stress. 

Jena can either reflect on her accomplishments of the day, swap her mood, listen to music, call a friend, or put on a podcast. When she arrives home, she can be more present and relaxed for the evening with family or personal activities, leaving work-related thoughts behind.

Greater control over their lives

When paired with flexible work arrangements, long commutes to work can offer employees a better work-life balance and more control over their lives. By enabling remote work or flexitime, you allow these workers to reside where they prefer, such as in quieter suburban or rural areas. 

This can contribute to a higher quality of life, more affordable housing, and better environments for raising families. For example, Jena prefers a spacious home in the countryside over a cramped apartment in London. She accepts a longer commute but gains significant personal and familial benefits, thus feeling more in control of her lifestyle choices.

Happy businessman commuting back from work.

Financial benefits

Super commuting can yield financial benefits by enabling employees to work for higher-paying companies in major cities while residing in areas with a lower cost of living. For instance, Jena secures a well-paying job in London but chooses to live in a more affordable suburban or rural area. 

Despite the added transportation costs, the overall financial gain from a higher salary can be advantageous when contrasted with significantly lower housing expenses. By tolerating longer commutes, she can achieve a balance that allows her to save more money or invest in a better quality of life away from the high costs of city living. 

The potential savings can counterbalance the commuting expenses. Ultimately, the reduction in living costs can equal or even exceed the added charges of a super commute.

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Solutions to overcome the cons of super commuting

Determine what matters the most for you as a company

Would you rather keep highly skilled and engaged employees, although it implies some adjustments, or let them leave because coming on-site more often is logistically undoable for them in the long run? 

The answer relies on the value of their contributions versus the potential challenges their commute presents for you. Striking the right balance is key to maintaining a committed workforce while ensuring operational effectiveness. Depending on your corporate culture and needs, you must weigh the pros and cons. 

But remember, discussing this topic with your workforce is fundamental to knowing how they feel about it. Maybe super commuting is not a problem for them at all, especially if you enable a hybrid work schedule.

Flexible work arrangements

Implementing a flexible work policy can help mitigate the downsides of super commuting by easing the stress and fatigue associated with frequent long-distance travel. 

Flexible schedules enable super commuters to avoid peak-hour congestion, reducing travel time and transportation costs. Part-time remote work options empower them to work from home on certain days, cutting down the frequency of their commutes altogether. By offering compressed workweeks, you also allow longer periods of at-home rest. 

This openness to flexibility at work helps improve work-life balance, reduce burnout, and maintain productivity, thus ensuring that even those living far away can contribute effectively and remain integrated with the company.

A group of colleagues working in a hybrid office.

Include super commuters as much as other employees

Inclusive practices are essential in ensuring that super commuters, who may not be physically present as often as their on-site colleagues, do not feel isolated or disconnected. Regular inclusion in communications, virtual meetings, and team activities helps maintain their sense of belonging and alignment with company culture.

It’s important for organizations to foster engagement proactively. You can do so by leveraging technology for collaboration, offering opportunities for face-to-face interaction when possible, and ensuring their contributions are recognized and valued. Such measures prevent the decline of team cohesion and guarantee super commuters remain integrated within the workforce, bolstering morale and job satisfaction for all employees.

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Provide commute compensation

Offering commute allowance or financial support to employees with super-long commutes may be an effective strategy to recognize their expenses. Such a policy could manifest as a travel stipend, reimbursement for mileage or public transit costs, or even tiered compensation based on commute length. If your team members must come on-site two days a week, you could try to find a partnership with a hotel close to the office so they can reduce their commuting time.

This not only provides a tangible acknowledgment of the challenges associated with super commuting but can also enhance job satisfaction and loyalty. It signals to employees that their well-being is important to the company. This practice can help retain and attract talent from a wider geographic area who are willing to travel the extra mile to be part of your team.

Inform super commuters as early as possible

Organization and communication are paramount when collaborating with super commuters to ensure they feel informed and valued. Providing early notice for on-site meetings or events is critical in allowing these employees to plan their schedules and commutes efficiently. Advanced communication helps them optimize travel arrangements, possibly securing more convenient or cost-effective transportation options. 

This forethought demonstrates respect for their time and the extra effort required for them to attend in person. It minimizes stress while enabling them to be fully prepared and present. Not only does it benefit their performance, but it is also essential for the team and company’s success.

We hope you now understand better super commuting and the fact that there is a high chance this concept will increase in the future. Our work lives become more flexible, and having a long commute to work is not always an issue, especially when entitled to flexible work arrangements. Same as hybrid work allows employees to find jobs that align better with their career goals, it also enables them to create the work-life balance they need to be personally and professionally fulfilled. Are you still looking for a solution to successfully embrace and manage this new way of working?

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1 Some employees board planes, trains as super commutes are reconsidered amid return to office mandates, worklife;

Sources: 

Paulyne

Paulyne is a hybrid work specialist, who writes about sustainability, flexible work models and employee experience.

Super commuting: is it really worth it?