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What’s Fake Commuting and Why it Matters

October 06, 2021

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Remote working was the norm at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, with millions working virtually. While many loved saying goodbye to their commutes, virtual jobs from home created a new problem: work life and home life nearly became one. A solution is "fake commuting."

What Problem Does Fake Commuting Solve?

While workers love the fact that they don't have to spend time and energy (and often a fair amount of frustration) on a commute, there are drawbacks: isolation, disconnection, a modern-age form of "cabin fever." Enter virtual commuting, which many call fake commuting. The concept is to create a clear delineation between work life and home life. While you very well may be living both of these realities in the same space, there are actions one can take to put a wall between the two worlds.

Microsoft has been a driver of this idea, with updates to the workplace tools in its Teams package designed to help clearly define the beginning and the end of a workday. Structure is key to Microsoft's approach, tasking employees to block out the time of a workday, and to have a set list of objectives to be accomplished during that time. One can also rate the day at the end, checking off accomplished tasks and pushing unfinished tasks forward on their schedules.

Softening the Shift Between Home and Work-Life

Workers often spend eight hours or more on their computers—e-mailing and sitting through seemingly endless Zoom meetings. Then log-off and immediately go into home life: roles of parents, partners, and providers. That sudden shift is jarring; humans need more time and space to recalibrate, consciously or subconsciously planning for the day ahead or reflecting on what's been accomplished during a completed workday.

How Fake Should a Fake Commute Be?

Pretty darn fake! It's not uncommon for proponents of fake commutes to get dressed for work just as they would for the traditional workplace, pack themselves a lunch, and head out the door. Only to walk around the block to come back home and sit down at their work desks. Sounds nuts? It's not. The mental health benefits of a fake commute actions such as these are real, measurable, and science-based.

The human brain craves routine, soothed by what's familiar into a place where it's best positioned for critical thinking. Disruptions in routines, and much worse surprises, set our biological alarm systems on alert. Even something as seemingly simple as a change in our morning commutes can send the brain reeling. We go from cruising along on autopilot to both hands gripping the throttle, weighing possible risks, wondering how we're going to land.

Commuting used to be the framework of that needed regularity, the ultimate "on" and "off" switches. Nothing says the end of a workday like getting in your car, or on a train and heading home. Maybe you'd check your emails and messages after hours, but you weren't "at work." Virtual commutes can now draw that important distinction. And what the fake commute routines are doesn't really matter, only that they are regular and reliable enough to satisfy the brain's need for consistency. The commute may be fake, but the benefits are real.

Tips for Creating a Virtual Commute

  • Time your virtual commute. While the average traditional commute is about 30 to 40 minutes, a 15-minute virtual commute is more reasonable. Perhaps ease into the routine two or three days a week and build up to a daily virtual commute.
  • Choose the right mode for you. While many people take a walk for a fake commute, other activities will do: stretching, yoga, reading, listening to music, a bike ride—lots of non-work-related activities are fine. But it is best if you physically leave your home.
  • Shift from digital to analog. You might be tempted to finish up your work to get back to binge-watching Netflix. But your brain will be happier with a break from screen time. Consider a walk or even doing those dishes that have piled up over the workday.
  • Physically change your workspace. Just closing your laptop on your home desk or table may not be enough. Put it in another room. Clear the desk. Papers, pens, thumb drives—if you use something for work, put it away and return that space to a place for personal use.
  • Incorporate your to-do list. Have a few things to pick up at the market? Get your dry cleaning? Maybe taking the dog for a walk? Whatever daily errands you have, your virtual commute time is a great window for getting them done.
  • Connect with other people. It could be a chat with a neighbor or a call to say hello to a friend or family member. Maybe get a little gabbier at the coffee shop while grabbing your morning brew. A virtual commute is all the better with some human contact.

Work from home certainly has its benefits. But the blurring between work life and home life isn’t one of them. Perhaps virtual commuting will make your remote job a bit better.

Written by William McCleary for Knockaround.

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