People have started ‘fake commuting’ because they crave the alone time they used to get on their way to the office — and experts say it’s a smart idea
“I had started to gain weight over lockdown, and I knew it was mainly because I wasn’t moving around during the day,” said Charlotte Barnacle.
Every morning before her workday, medical office assistant hops in her car and drives. She spends anywhere from three minutes to 90 minutes on the road, before returning home and getting started with her day.
Cameron is a “fake commuter,” an increasingly common work-from-home trend that’s being praised by workers and productivity coaches alike. “Fake commuting” is a substitute for the “me time” commuters once got on their way to a formal office space, whether they walked, drove, read a book or listened to a podcast on the train. Commuters had the time to clear their minds on their daily commute. With fake commuting, those who work from home do, too.
We spoke to experts and seasoned fake commuters to understand the benefits of fake commuting and how to implement it in our own lives as the pandemic looms on.
Commuting created boundaries between work and home — fake commuting does too
In 2018, the average American spent 225 hours (over nine calendar days!) commuting. However, since the pandemic started, more people are working from home and working 3 hours more daily than they did before.
“Commuting was a great legitimate experience to set up a barrier between the outside world of work, family, [or] social life and demanding your attention,” explains clinical psychologist Dr. Jeannette Raymond. “‘Fake commute’ time is about setting up personal care boundaries — emotional oases and a guilt-free space [and] time to check in on themselves.” The real commute, she explains, created those boundaries artificially; now people have to do it for themselves in a world where those boundaries are increasingly blurred.
Unblurring the lines between work and home when you’re working from home
As someone who’s been working from home for over a year, Rianna Kate, wellness educator and lifestyle coach says she came across the idea of fake commuting when some of her clients, who weren’t used to working from home, were forced to do so due to the pandemic. Because that commute time was no longer there to fill, she explains, people were reluctant to make that time themselves.
Librarian Lucy Ahmed does an hour-long fake commute walk after work.
“Suddenly, people were waking up late, grabbing a laptop off the floor next to their bed, sitting in bed in their pajamas [and] checking their emails,” said Kate. “Normally, when you are in an office, you shut your laptop, walk out the door, get on the [train] and come home.”
Fake commuting can be an opportunity to get active
Charlotte Barnacle, a project management officer from Oxfordshire, UK, took to fake commuting after she realized her work-from-home lifestyle was somewhat sedentary.
“I had started to gain weight over lockdown, and I knew it was mainly because I wasn’t moving around during the day,” said Barnacle, whose commute lasted up to half an hour by car. “Although at the office I sat at a desk all day, I was walking… around the building a lot and getting out for a lunchtime walk.”
Since starting a daily 2.5-mile fake commute in the form of a walk, she’s come to notice a surge of energy. “Walking before breakfast really gives me a feeling of accomplishment and sets me up for the day.”
Fake commuting is not the same as winding down after a long day
Fake commutes are not about “rewards,” like drinking a glass of wine after work, or watching a show, explains Raymond, they are about “erecting necessary personal boundaries that allow a person to separate family life from work life from reward time and friend time.”
Librarian Lucy Ahmed, whose commute was once a 45-minute walk each way, found her hour-long fake commute walk after work (in addition to a morning run) to be instrumental in bookending her day. “I decompress and disengage, psychologically drawing a line under the day… [it] keeps work and home separate.”
Reaping the benefits of ‘fake commuting’
Nowadays, as we switch between hundreds of open tabs on our laptop, shopping online while replying to work emails during the day and streaming shows into the night, we have no boundaries. ” Without [boundaries] one becomes disoriented, overwhelmed, and unable to monitor when you need a break; when you need a chance of pace or activity,” explained Raymond.
Writer Akanksha Singh
It might be hard, but the first thing to do is give yourself permission to draw boundaries. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and drowning in family stuff, children’s schooling and having no break, says Raymond, adding it might even feel like there is no legitimate reason to take breaks since everything blurred into everything else.
Once you’ve done that, Kate suggests working out what works for you. It might not be Ahmed’s morning run and walk schedule or Cameron’s daily drive. Rather says Kate, it’s about taking guilt-free time for yourself and setting up boundaries.
Whether that’s multiple desktops set up on your Mac to draw lines between your “work” and “personal” modes like Kate, setting a time every morning to say, “Today I’m going to turn off my laptop at 5 and go for a walk,” or listening to a true-crime podcast, fake commuting, however you choose to practice is about your individual mental health.