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Is traveling to work always a waste of time?

AAmerican “always in a hurry”, ya Alexis de Tocqueville in “Democracy in America,” his work was published in 1835. This was most evident on crowded trains during rush hour commutes in recent decades, before the covid-19 pandemic.

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In the U.S., almost 75% of professionals say travel is the thing they fear most about getting back to the office. Remote work a few days a week will continue to exist. Rush hour traffic, crowded trains and transport strikes (like the one on the London Underground this past week) have all supported working from home. In the US and Europe, rising fares are eating into people’s wages. Calls for lower carbon emissions add to the argument for millions of employees not to travel non-essentially. In some boomtowns, getting to work requires honking the horn and epic gridlock and accidents.

Every now and then, most people will need to go to the office and back, though. Whether you’re walking, biking, vespa, bus, tram or subway, there’s a wide selection of textures and colors. Some will insist that no commute is worth it. But with the right attitude, it doesn’t have to feel like temporary brain damage. This guest, Bartleby, takes the subway to The Economist ‘s London office 3 times a week and found it both useful and strange.

Useful and fulfilling depending on how you commute. However, unless you’re hopping in a car in the driveway and getting off in a company parking lot, at least some physical activity is required. If you’re riding a bike, or just picking up your walking pace to catch a bus or train, you’re combining the outdoors with an element of struggle – a healthy amount to energize, not burn out. If you don’t catch it, don’t worry. You’ll almost certainly have more flexible hours than your previous 9-to-5 routine. The next train might not look like an ox cart by any means.

Like all dislocations, even regular and predictable ones, the daily commute is more of a distraction from your home or work When and where you are susceptible to physical and psychological factors. In the 1984 film “Falling in Love,” Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro rode the same train from the suburbs to New York City month after month until one day they started a relationship . The plot is mediocre and the dialogue is bleak, but the idea that the journey infuses risk and possibility is profound and real.

Public transportation, which involves commuting, remains the most democratic way to get to work. As Federal Reserve Chairman from 1979 to 1987, Paul Volcker rode the shuttle bus from New York to Washington dc and in both cities. A civil servant who embodies civic duty, the central banker is known for his financial discipline in his personal affairs as well as his monetary policy. In an age of greed and limousines, helicopters and private jets, the thrift of “the custodian of the state’s money” sends a strong message. Volcker’s example seems particularly relevant when companies are tightening their belts in preparation for a recession.

Perhaps most importantly in the age of remote work, commuting helps mark the gap between home and office Psychological distance, when the kitchen table becomes your workstation, it disappears. It provides a useful buffer – a critical space separating personal and professional.

Getting ready to leave for work in the morning involves elements of planning—and sometimes even anticipation. Step out of your home and your comfort zone, and you’ll feel more energized by default. When walking to the train station, the purpose is externalized and compressed. In the afternoon, you can use that time as a veil to separate the day from the rest of the night and explore those pieces of your inner life that nag but still feel connected to the world. Bartleby let her mind meander on the move. Time wasted is time gained.

Few people like to hide in one place forever. Working remotely in a secluded Italian village sounds like a treat. However, like all cookie-cutter, it quickly starts to feel suffocating. In a modern world where De Tocqueville’s words hold true for everyone, it seems odd to add haste. But not if you think of your commute as punctuation in a larger story.

Read our about management and More info on working columnist Bartleby:

When to Trust Your Intuition as a Manager (August 18)

Why employees are working in a maligned industry (August 13)

Why it’s okay to work imperfectly (July 28)

For more expert analysis of breaking news in economics, business and markets , please subscribe to Money Talks, our weekly newsletter.

This article appeared in the business section titled “For Commuter Defense” in print

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