It’s a staple of office small talk, one of the first things we check when considering a new job, and a necessary evil for an overwhelming majority of American workers: the commute. While more and more companies are offering remote positions and flexible work-from-home options, the U.S. Census Bureau recently announced that the average commute is still hovering around 25 minutes. The fact that this hasn’t decreased significantly with the rise of telework tells us that while more Americans are working from home, more are also hunkering down for longer trips to and from the office.
For many of us, commuting makes up a considerable portion of how we spend our time, and thus has a serious impact on our quality of life. It’s no secret that poor commutes can affect our mood, but it can also disrupt your work/life balance, strain personal relationships, and even negatively influence your physical health.
If your commute is bringing you down, here are a few easy steps you can take to help make the most out of a tough situation.
Double-check your options. Do you really know the quickest way to work? Or are you trusting the GPS? By comparing both the time and cost of different methods of transportation, as well as different routes if you’re driving, biking, or walking, you might be surprised to discover a way that’s cheaper, faster, or simply more enjoyable. If you want to take it a step further, experiment with leaving work or home at different times—even a ten-minute adjustment can make a difference.
Ask your employer about scheduling. If you’ve tried different routes, methods, and departure times, and your commute is still a slog, it might be time to broach the topic of flexible work scheduling with your employer. A significant shift in your clock-in or clock-out time can work wonders for your commute. Assuming you can still complete all of your expected duties, many employers are open to the idea of starting earlier or later, or even allowing different days in the office. For example, many companies allow their staff to work four ten-hour workdays, instead of five nine-hour ones.
Get a commute companion. Whether it’s a buddy that works nearby, or a coworker that lives in the same neighborhood, sharing your commute with a friendly face can make the trek a bit less painful. Besides the obvious benefits of companionship, you can both cut costs by splitting gas, tolls, and other travel expenses. And if your carpool gets big enough, you can even use high-occupancy vehicle lanes on some highways to slim down the time.
Give yourself a head start. If you take public transportation to work, you may be able to be productive on your way to and from the office. Check with your employer if the time spent working during your commute can count toward your workday—it could help you spend less time in the office and improve your work-life balance.
Take time to unplug. If you already feel your work-life balance is tipped in the “career” direction, consider using your commute in the opposite direction as time to unplug, unwind, and focus on any and all things not work-related. With streaming services offering an endless amount of music, audiobooks, and podcasts, your once-stressful drive can be a time of relaxation and enjoyment.
Commutes aren’t anybody’s favorite part of the workday. But with these tips, you can optimize your daily travel and help calibrate your work-life balance.