Throughout the pandemic, millions of people adhered to government guidance and worked from home whenever they could to limit the spread of coronavirus. But as the guidance is being lifted from 19 July, commuting will become a normal part of everyday life once again for many Britons.
But if the idea of getting onto a crowded train or bus after 16 months makes you feel like you’re about to break out in hives, you’re not alone. According to a poll of 2,000 UK workers by transport technology firm Kura, one in five people said they hope to never go back to commuting, while 19 per cent said they intend not to commute at all after restrictions are lifted.
Although the government does not anticipate a mass return to work, and with many workplaces considering making flexible working a permanent part of their operations, it is normal to feel anxious about your work commute.
Here are a few things you can do to make the commute to work less stressful when you go back to the office.
Stay on top of the rules
Make sure you know the rules around mask-wearing and social distancing when it comes to commuting.
For example, if you work and commute in London, mask-wearing will remain compulsory on the Tube and other London transport services after next Monday, even though the legal obligation to wear them in public life will be dropped.
London mayor Sadiq Khan has said that keeping face masks mandatory would give Londoners reassurance and confidence to commute, as well as protect transport workers. The rule is set to become a condition of carriage on the underground, bus and rail.
Across other transport networks, the industry group representing all domestic train operators has said none of its members would enforce the wearing of face masks after 19 July. This includes Southeastern, TransPennine Express and Avanti West Coast.
The Rail Delivery Group said in a statement: “Train travel is low-risk, with the majority of carriages well ventilated by air conditioning systems or by doors and windows.”
However, if you want to wear a face mask while commuting on these services, you will not be stopped from doing so.
Boris Johnson has said that although mask-wearing will no longer be mandatory, the government “expects and recommends” that people continue to wear face coverings in “crowded and enclosed spaces”.
Speak to your employer about flexible working
Discussing flexible working arrangements with your employer could help put your mind at ease about commuting if you don’t have to do it every day.
Experts have warned against businesses rushing back into traditional ways of working and called for greater flexibility.
Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, a human resources industry body, said: “Freedom Day shouldn’t signal a mass return to workplaces, but it could signal the start of greater freedom and flexibility in how, when and where people work.
“Employers should be trying to understand and support individuals’ preferences over more flexible working arrangements where possible, balanced with meeting the needs of the business.”
Godfrey Ryan, CEO of Kura, added: “As these fears [around infection control and overcrowding on public transport] continue to prevent workers from wanting to return to the office, it is time for employers to step up and offer alternative travel support to their employees where necessary.”
Find alternative walking or cycling routes
This might present the perfect opportunity to discover new ways of getting to work that don’t involve public transport.
According to government guidance on safer travel for passengers amid the coronavirus pandemic, walking and cycling wherever possible is encouraged to avoid being in close proximity with other people for long periods of time.
This might mean getting off one stop early to walk the rest of the way to the office, or discovering cycling routes you haven’t tried before. Planning your journey to avoid getting caught in large crowds and giving yourself more time to get to or from work can also alleviate stress associated with commuting.
Use the commute to mentally prepare for the work day ahead
A 2016 study by researchers at Harvard Business School found that the daily commute offers people time and space to think about the work day ahead, which it calls “role-clarifying prospection”.
Time spent travelling to work was used to switch from a “home role” to a work-related identity, said the study’s co-author Jon Jachimowicz, an assistant professor in the Organisational Behaviour Unit.
The study found that employees who engaged in some degree of prospection had greater job satisfaction and improved work-related outcomes.