- Several national and local studies have uncovered strong negative correlations between commuting and job satisfaction (and overall well-being).
- Many people would take pay cuts – some small, others substantial – to shorten their commutes.
- The shift to remote work amid the COVID-19 pandemic reduced commutes and increased employees' well-being. Employers can also save money by switching teams to half-remote, half-in-person arrangements.
- This article is for business owners, managers and employees interested in how shorter commutes can benefit them and their teams.
Whether you're behind the wheel, carpooling with colleagues, or spending your mornings strap-hanging on public transportation, commuting to work every day can be a drag. Yet, according to University of Chicago economists, 37% of jobs in the U.S. can be done remotely.
Going remote would, of course, remove commuting from the equation, which happened for many workers either temporarily or permanently during the pandemic. That's a big deal: According to Census Bureau data, Americans who drive to work travel an average of 27.6 minutes in each direction. Over time, that number adds up to hours, days, weeks and even years you can't get back.
Several studies have examined what people would do if it meant they'd never have to commute again. Here's what those studies found.
Many employees detest the commute.
Dissatisfaction with the daily drive is easy to understand. After all, who wants to spend hours of their week on an unproductive task before and after their 9-to-5?
Commuting's unproductive nature can make work itself harder. A 2020 Springer survey of 26,000 workers uncovered a negative correlation between commute length and job satisfaction. The survey uncovered the same correlation between commute length and leisure-time satisfaction. In other words, the longer the commute, the less people feel like they enjoy their time outside work.
How much do employees resent their commute? According to a RingCentral report, 40% of Americans would rather clean their toilets than commute to a physical office or pre-pandemic workplace.
The feeling is even more prevalent in congested cities. For example, hundreds of Boston.com readers responding to a 2022 Boston.com survey expressed near-universal dismay at the thought of commuting again in a "post-COVID" world.
Other major cities showed similar signs of dissatisfaction, with research into traffic statistics that suggests painful commutes. A December 2021 Inrix study found that Chicago drivers lost 104 hours per year to road traffic – a total of more than four days. It's safe to assume commuting plays a part in this traffic. New York came in second at 102 hours, followed by Philadelphia at 90 hours.
Though public transportation may seem like a solution to commuting issues, its prevalence is surprisingly low. Census data released in 2021 found that only 5% of American employees use public transit to commute. There are outliers, of course, particularly in major cities. In San Francisco, for example, one-third of employees commute via public transit.
Did you know? If some or all of your employees work remotely, it's critical to develop a telecommuting policy to spell out exactly what you expect of employees.
What would workers be willing to give up to end the commute?
While most people are already giving up something to make their commute possible, researchers also wanted to know what people would be willing to give up or do to end the practice.
Some of the biggest drivers of commuters' resentment were what respondents said they'd been forced to give up to make their commutes to work.
A 2021 Zebra survey of 1,000 people found that most would sacrifice up to 50% of their salary to shorten their commutes. The men surveyed were 8% more likely than women to take pay cuts for a shorter commute.
As for commuting's personal toll, respondents said that, more than anything else, they were sacrificing sleep to drive their current commutes. Time with family came in second, followed by exercise, time with a partner, and time to get ahead on work.
Tip: Employers who give employees mental health days can help their team members regain some of the personal time they lose to commuting.
Shifting to remote work has changed the picture.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a widespread shift to remote work. According to January 2021 data from the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), 6% of Americans primarily worked from home in 2019. By the end of 2020, when the pandemic was at its most potent to date, that number had increased to more than 33.3%. Around that time, FlexJobs reported that remote employees were happier than in-office employees.
More recently, Gallup data from September 2021 showed that 25% of U.S. employees still worked from home. The equivalent figure for white-collar employees was 41%. Gallup also found that remote employees often preferred remote work since it eliminated their commute, introduced schedule flexibility, and made them generally feel better.
Tip: To successfully manage a remote workforce, communicate often and extensively, and identify employees' individual needs.
Remote work saves money for employees and employers.
It costs money to go to work – unless you go remote. A September 2020 Upwork study found that, at that time, the average American had already saved $2,000 by no longer commuting. A few months earlier, Zippia statistics determined that employees who work remotely would likely pay $4,600 less in total expenses.
Studies from 2021 expand on this concept. LendingTree statistics found that remote work led to debt reductions of approximately $9,117 for the average American. Meanwhile, 60% of millennial and adult Gen Z respondents to a Bankrate survey that year agreed that working from home was financially beneficial.
Employers also benefit from allowing telecommuting with engaged remote workers. For starters, a team that's fully remote doesn't need an office, which means minimal overhead payments and no commercial leasing costs. In fact, remote collaboration is a feature of the smart office, characterized by connected technology.
Employers who keep an office can still save if they allow half-remote, half-in-person work. According to Global Workplace Analytics, citing data from Mindwave Research, this schedule can save small business owners $11,000 per employee per year. Commuting isn't just a problem for employees – it's a burden on the whole company.
Andrew Martins contributed to the writing and reporting in this article.