With No Work Commute, How Do Remote Workers Define Their Workday?

When WFH, The Lines Between ‘Home’ and ‘Work’ Are Blurred

There are two types of people. Those that rise at dawn to hop on their Peloton before logging onto work, and those who slither out of bed at 8:58 AM before scurrying to their work laptop.

Whatever type of person you are, what’s made this morning routine possible is the obsoletion of the commute to work. The pandemic has made nearly all workers remote, and this trend isn’t going anywhere.  Even after COVID becomes a thing of the past, more than 70% of knowledge workers want a hybrid remote-office model going forward. The future of work means little to no transportation, period.

Certain people celebrate this, stoked they’ll never have to sit in traffic or sit next to a particularly sweaty stranger on the bus again. They’ve gained their time back - 226 hours a year, to be exact. Yet even with these wins, there are downsides to losing the work commute. It means the lines between ‘work’ and ‘home’ begin to blur.

Without the ability to switch contexts, it becomes difficult to separate home life from work life. And soon enough, people don’t know how to differentiate the two.  

Is waiting until we can hop into cars, trains, and buses again a viable solution? Definitely not. There are other ways to create customized and effective workdays.

No Office Means Losing the Ability to Context Switch

Not having an office = no commute. This means workers are unable to switch contexts and have “reset” space. However, it’s important to first acknowledge that context switching has two different definitions.

The first definition refers to when someone shifts their focus from one work task to another. Think jumping from taking notes at a meeting, to presenting a pitch, to answering emails. This isn’t favorable because it takes time and effort to get into focus. And on average, it takes up to 25-minutes to get focused on a new task.

The second definition of context switching is far more literal. It’s the ability to physically switch locations. This means that the environment of the context changes. Being stuck in your car on your way to work versus sitting at your desk are two completely different contexts.

Context Switching During a Commute

Back in an old life, the biggest form of context switching was during the work commute. Commuting definitely isn’t the most glamorous activity (who dreams of traffic?) but it had its advantages.

The commute used to give people a slot of time to mentally prepare themselves. It wasn’t the commute itself that people relished; after all, they’re timely, expensive, and inconvenient. More so, it was the small slice of time allocated before and after the workday. Going to work meant winding up. Leaving work meant winding down.

Most crucially, the commute served as a clear-cut way to structure your day and made the office a physical location where work took place.

Context Switching in an Office

Context switching didn’t only happen while transporting to work. It also happened while on office grounds. There were many in-office rituals that served as ways to structure the workday and cement where work took place: the office.

Without the commute, there’s no official way to arrive at the office. Before, one could breezily walk in through the doors and march over to the Keurig machine or water cooler. It was a subtle way to announce to coworkers that “I’m here and ready to work (after I’ve had my coffee).”

These little moments of being able to notify co-workers of your presence were important. They were a way to draw the line between “I’m starting the day at work” and “I’m ending the day at work” once you left the office.  

Without the office and the commute, remote workers have a difficult time maintaining a work-life balance. They float in the in-between, suspended by Slack chat rooms and email inboxes.

With the Office Now at Home, How Can Workers Separate the Two?

The first obvious solution is to reinstate your commute hours. This means carving out a specific slot of time before and after work, approximately one hour. During this time, you focus on an activity that shifts your mental state. Think exercising, meditating, journaling, or listening to podcasts. Any activity that puts you in a frame of mind that differs from the one you’re in while at work.

These activities would give you ample time to mentally anticipate getting to work and let you unwind once the workday settles down.

If you’re reading this and going, “Yeah, thanks but no thanks I’m going to sleep in,” fret not.

There are more solutions. Read onwards.

Do Remote Work Tools That Provide Context Switching Exist?

The issue is that the current mainstream WFH tools don’t allow for a transition to signify the beginning or end of the workday. An icon might go from “Do Not Disturb” to “Available,” but it can be vague and at times not accurate.

And obviously, these tools don’t have commutes. Unless you count the walk from your bed to your desk.

These tools aren’t a metaverse, meaning it’s not a virtual shared space. Co-workers can’t see each other as they go through their workday unless on a designated video call. They’re unsure when their peers have started if they’re available, and whether they’ve clocked out for the day.

These remote tools create digital landscapes that are vague and alienating. Without a clear home base where a team can all check-in, the lines between work and home are blurred.

Having a Virtual HQ Helps Make the Office Feel Distinct From Home Again

Yes, the commute to the office had its advantages. But waiting for COVID to vanish so commutes can begin again isn’t a viable option. The solution isn’t commuting. It’s having the right tool for remote teams so they can define their workday.

To make the office feel distinct from home once again, Branch is creating a virtual HQ for remote teams. When you open up Branch, your avatar shows up, signifying to everyone that you’ve “arrived” to work. It’s the equivalent of the commute to the office, no smelly transportation required.

With your avatar hanging at its digital desk, your coworkers are fully aware of your presence. Best of all, they can run right up to you and have conversations in live-time. Branch hums in the background, meaning you can be on all-day without feeling fatigued or “always on.”

When you leave Branch and close your laptop, it’s parallel to leaving the office. The line is clearly drawn at when work begins, and when it ends.

To finally reclaim your home from the office, you can sign up for branch here

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