Bookmarked Commuting is Morally Bankrupt (by Stowe Boyd)

Commuting is unavoidable if physical presence is needed. Moving around big cities always takes heaps of time (Paolo always says ‘about 50 minutes’ when you ask him how much time it will take to get to some place in London, for Paris my rule of thumb is 30+mins each movement, in Amsterdam I assume 15mins because I cycle there and it’s much smaller)

When I still had an office to go to (1997-2004) it was a 10 minute cycle, later a 5 min walk, each way (same office, moved house). Then, as consultant visiting client offices (2004-2008), it would regulary be 5 hours each day, but it wasn’t a commute and it was different each week. I would work from home on days I wasn’t visiting client offices, as my employer did not have offices. From 2008 onwards working at home was the default, while aiming for at most 3 days per week visiting client offices. Since moving to the middle of the Netherlands, travel times are below an hour each way to most of the rest of the country, for the one or two days per week I don’t work from home. Despite travel I haven’t ‘commuted’ for 18 years.

My company has offices in Utrecht (in the walkable city center across from a public transport hub), and we have them both as a meeting space and because our more recent employees want a place to work. We provide the tools and means of course to be able to collaborate and communicate asynchronously and remotely.

We’re 8 people. Four live within cycling distance of the office. The other four within 30-50 minutes each way (by public transport or car). None of us are expected to show up in the office each day. Some are there 3-4 days, others once each week. I am usually there once every other week. We don’t provide lease cars, we do provide public transport cards (which include cycle and car rental/parking when needed for the ‘last mile’ from the nearest train station). Travel time to client offices generally is counted as work time, not a commute.

Commute times are the result of balancing three building blocks I think. Your own work location and nature of your job, the place you would want to or can afford to live, and the work location and nature of the job of your partner. Usually those three don’t shift simultaneously, meaning the arrangement of them is almost by definition suboptimal. Generally it seems people optimise for a commute below an hour.

Is commuting really morally bankrupt? Not by definition. Place of residence and the jobs you and your partner want are individual choices (though most certainly not free of constraints).
The moral choices of my role as employer concern less the commute, more the demands we make of people to be at our office, the expectations we have w.r.t. how many days per week a team member works on client projects and at their offices, and what expectations of clients we do or don’t cater for. E.g. we don’t take on projects where the client expects us to be there 5 days per week, and mostly aim for 3 days of client work per week as a healthy balance with other tasks. Office presence mostly is the result of wanting to be there. Commute time is the result of those choices and their morality. Because of other considerations other than the employer’s playing a role in commute time, it’s mostly not even a good proxy for the employer’s morality. Unless the employer’s choices are the dominant factor determining the commute, whether by deliberate choice or as consequence of inconsiderance. That’s when an employer doesn’t fulfull its duty of care for their employees.