Having moved out of London after 18 years of living in the capital I’m now enjoying (enduring?) the delights of commuting to work. Not five days a week fortunately, but two or three times a week I suffer an hour’s journey on a packed train into London with hardly enough elbow room to type on my laptop.
But, because I’m at the start of the line, I’m one of the lucky ones –I always get a seat (even if it is occasionally an aisle seat facing backwards). Yesterday the train was packed by the time it left Brighton and everybody from Preston Park onwards had to stand all the way into London (unless they were lucky or cunning enough to have positioned themselves next to someone with a suitcase who looked like they were getting out at Gatwick Airport). Commuting, I’ve discovered, comes with its own unique games and strategies (an encyclopediac knowledge of train times, and where the doors open to allow you the speediest exit being just some of them)
An industry colleague who regularly commutes from Haywards Heath (which is still a 45 minute trek into London Victoria) never gets a seat. When renewing her ticket she asked the station office for a ‘standing only ticket’ (as they provide in some theatres and concerts) but was told the season ticket entitled her to travel to the destination and didn’t guarantee the manner in which she would travel. Caring customer service.
So you’ve driven/ walked or ridden to the station, stood in a cramped carriage for an hour nestled up against people you would never say hello to, let alone virtually cuddle, and then rushed by tube, bus or foot to the office the other end. And then your working day begins and you’re expected to be fully productive, add value to clients and your organisation, be friendly, approachable and above all professional for eight-plus hours and then do the return journey with people who haven’t recently had the benefit of a morning wash.
As I said I’m one of the lucky ones. Doing the journey two to three times a week (and often not in the rush hour) is enjoyable, when it’s broken up by time spent in a local office, or working at home. It also helps the ‘life’ side of the equation. When I work from Brighton I can be home by 6pm rather than 7.30pm. But is a five-day commute to a city office really the ideal way to get the best out of people? Or would working from a mixture of settings: offices in big towns, local offices/ hubs and home offices be preferable to allow people to both be productive and also get pleasure from their working (and home) lives?