Virtual Commuting… from the desk of our Director
2021-04-30 | By Deborah Valentine
Sounds odd, doesn’t it. Those two words, in one phrase. And yet, is it? One thing is becoming clearer for us all – regardless of where we are from, where we live. Regardless of relocation, expatriation or not. There will be no return to normal. In fact, we are in the process of defining what ‘normal’ may look like – with no indications of when it will ‘start’.
Among the many discussions I have had the pleasure of engaging with in the last year, there have been many terms new to my vocabulary, many terms new to my thinking, and virtual commuting is right up there. Following the many conferences, presentations on global relocation, expatriation, talent recruitment worldwide this has certainly been a continuing process of re-education.
Back to the beginning though
For me, among the great wins of this period of reflection (as well as chaos and challenge) has been an almost immediate appreciation by many industries that ‘working from home’ was not only possible, but could be good! Slowly, across the world, people, companies, organisations have been adopting this concept, exploring what is being called a hybrid workplace. Allowing people to shift their work time between an office and a home; sometimes even encouraging it. This was, however, not the majority. Many believed it would ‘not work’, that people ‘would not work’, that bottom lines would suffer, that supervision would be impossible. And yet, when we all HAD to work from home, and all levels, elements of the ‘corporate’ ladder had to do so as well – many also discovered, not only was it possible – but it was ‘working’. There are challenges, of course, but overall we are managing this transition as it evolves. Of course, there will be industries, activities where this is not possible. Please, take my comments and reflections for those for whom it was, and is possible.
Sure, it was possible. Over time though – and not a long one – the fact that all the surrounding conditions were also changing did add some challenges. Balancing the additional tasks of home – especially when there were children, or where the space in which people were working was not ideal for this – have created challenges. The mental well being of many are being affected. There are challenges perhaps not fully appreciated at the beginning, but which over time have become increasingly apparent, and increasingly important to consider.
There have been many surveys – all over the world – asking for input from employees, managers, administrators. Asking people to comment on the impact of ‘working from home’ – which by the way, is now an acronym: WFH! Inquiring from staff what their ‘future’ wishes would be regarding the work and home scenarios. Across many industries, fields of expertise, levels of management etc., a common conclusion has been arising. Many people are enjoying the absence of ‘the commute’. Relishing in whatever new found time, feeling, sense they were now having; avoiding whatever it was that made their commute less bearable. The reasons have not been explored in any studies I have seen, but the conclusions are fairly standard, and global. Not many people miss commuting, at all.
A win! For many. But, over time steps need to be taken to avoid, or prevent, challenges created. Like it or not, a commute presents a moment of ‘change’, a process during which one relocates from a home space to a work space. It is time to disconnect and then, reconnect again. And, it is this process of change and connection which is gaining the upper hand on people. While we can all relish in the new found time, sense of liberation or freedom from not having to commute – the fact that there is increasingly little to redefine our home/work space means that a ‘commute’ is even more necessary.
It is even more important, for our mental wellbeing, for our sense of self, to find something which disconnects from one ‘space’, gives us a break from that space and connects us to another. Our brains and creativity need it; our productivity needs it; our ability to concentrate, and do the best we can – at whatever we are doing – needs it. Our mental well-being desperately needs it. And so, the term was born: create, everyday, a commute, a determined changing of gears, space, people, activities in a world becoming increasingly digital, and virtual.
The virtual commute
The virtual commute can be anything really: a walk with a neighbour; a separate space to eat our lunch; a different activity either outside the home, or in a different corner of the home. Something which helps us disconnect from our ‘home’ world, take a moment to think, do something different, before we connect to our work world. It should not include ‘home’ activities though – which are also not part of a commute, as this, while it disconnects us from ‘work’ still has us connected to our responsibilities.
Commuting to work has many different interpretations. It can be long, short; easy, complicated; shared, individual. Whatever it is though, the absence of it can only be truly taken advantage of when we create, instead, another space or moment to ensure we get the break a commute gives us. We need to plan this, purposefully, so that we can truly take advantage of the benefits we have felt when our commutes disappeared. We encourage all to invest in finding the best alternatives to creating a virtual commute for ourselves, and in so doing allowing ourselves to benefit from the breaks created between the worlds we live, and work in.
About the author
Deborah Valentine is the ACCESS Executive Director. In keeping with her motivation to help people broaden their horizons, she has been giving leadership and guidance to the many international expatriate volunteers who come through ACCESS’ doors on their way to a more settled life in the Netherlands. She has, simultaneously played an active role in ensuring the financial sustainability of the organisation since 2011.