The Beauty of the Non-Commute

I love not having to commute to work every day. Chromatic is a distributed company which means I don’t have to commute to an office because there is no single office that we all work from. Instead I get to decide where, how, and even when I do the day’s work.

How do we do it? Many have home offices that they work from where there is no commute. Some create an artificial commute which they use to get in and out of the state of mind they need to do their best work, while others choose to add some variety to their work week by working from a coworking space or cafe close to home.

But why does this matter? Commuting is a regular part of work life. The first job I ever had came with a 30 minute commute (one way). Having a commute became an expectation for any job I subsequently had, and it wasn’t until I started at Chromatic that I truly began to appreciate that burden being lifted. A recent survey of the Chromatic team shows that most spend less than 10 minutes and travel less than a mile getting to and from work. Compared to the average commute for an American worker, 50.8 minutes round trip, we see a substantial difference in time saved.

A study on the measurement of subjective well-being by Daniel Kahneman and Alan B. Krueger suggests that the morning commute has the greatest effect on lowering subjective well-being, ranking higher than housework. Not having a commute means that I don’t have to worry about its effect on lowering my subjective well-being, and ironically affords me more time to do housework.

But from an employer’s perspective, why does this matter?

I would suggest that the answer to this question is another question; "How can a company help its employees be as productive as possible?" While this is a question that has no single answer, I would argue that giving team members the freedom to choose how they commute can be a part of it. As a distributed team, we are allowed to work more efficiently and effectively because of expert scheduling with Google Calendar and effective use of tools like Slack and Google Hangouts to keep the lanes of communication open and available. As a team member, it’s great to not have to go and search for someone in an office just to find that they’re out for the day. For both the employer and an employee, there is beauty in knowing that the working hours are spent doing just that, working.

The benefits for a non-commute extend beyond productivity in the workplace. There’s evidence to suggest that there are a vast array of benefits that correlate with less time spent commuting such as reduced stress and better cardiovascular health. Yet the thing that compels me the most is that the lack of a commute correlates to having more time to do other things. We all want more hours in a day and not having the burden of a commute sometimes makes me feel like I do. A gift of a few extra moments that I can use to catch up on reading, write a note to a friend or to go for a run. In Annie Dillard’s book, The Writing Life, she writes “How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour and that one is what we are doing.” For me this means ‘the less we commute, the better’.

The fewer hours we spend in a car, train, or bus translates to more available hours we have to spend with our friends and family, doing the things that we find meaningful. The real beauty of the non-commute is that time is truly yours to define.