Commuting: Getting There’s Not Half the Fun. But We Do It


commutingDespite the advent of the mobile work-anywhere-anytime economy, computers and smartphones have not yet replaced brick-and-mortar offices.

According to a Pacific Standard article recently reprinted in CityLab, “the vast majority of us still travel to work most days: only about 2.8% of the total workforce says they work from home ‘at least half the time.'”

Since 1980, when the Census Bureau began keeping track, commuting time for the average American worker has increased by roughly 20%. A typical worker now spends over 26 minutes commuting each way, and some spend more than an hour and a half a day. In areas such as New York or Los Angeles, “extreme commuters” may travel two or more hours each way, often journeying by car, train, ferry, bus, bicycles, and/or foot in the same trip.

When asked, most people say they hate commuting. It’s unproductive, unpaid time. It’s costly, it’s environmentally unsound, and it wastes gasoline. Plus, it’s stressful. Commuting is associated with high rates of anxiety, depression, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and other maladies.

Workers would prefer to work from home.

So, why do we still commute? The reality is that for many companies, technology is not a good substitute for face-to-face interaction. Existing technologies such as e-mail, instant messaging, and even Skype just don’t convey information efficiently or get across nonverbal cues like body language, facial expressions, and eye movements. Especially in group meetings.