Long Road to Work: The Case of Supercommuting

businessman laptop mobile airport RexThe majority of us share the same daily routine of getting to and from work. In busy London and New York many take the subway, in sunny Barcelona and environmentally friendly Copenhagen it is possible to get around with a bike, while in smaller and less expensive cities many might use private cars. And even though in most cases we move to our offices within our home cities, complaining about traffic jams and the amount of time spent to get to and from work would probably be a common topic. Well, such a perception is easy to change: just try to compare yourself to people whose working place is hundreds of kilometers away from home, and whose way of commuting is… by plane.

As a recent Forbes article indicates, such type of long-distance commuting, also called supercommuting, is on the rise. Today this subgroup of employees, who need to commute to their workplace more that 300 km, constitutes about 3-10% of the working population in the US. Usually these supercommuters leave their homes for work early Monday morning and return for the weekend to their spouses, kids, relatives and friends. Naturally, such lifestyle has several drawbacks as I have indicated in an earlier entry. Firstly, frequent absence from home may create extra stress for the family and jeopardize partner relationships. Secondly, spending a lot of time on the road, as well as extra time in the office (due to the absence of family in the work location), influences work-life balance and may result in extra fatigue and burnout. So, it is probably reasonable to ask, why not relocate for the job?

To put it simply: because of everything that would be left behind. Similar to one of the main challenges of expatriation, the dual-career issues may be one of the main reasons for not relocating. Specifically, if a spouse is employed in the home city, relocation to the other city to avoid commuting would mean the spouse would lose the job. Apart from spouse career issues, many supercommuters with small children value the proximity of extended family and relatives in their home city. Kindergartens, schools and owned property are all the other things that add up to the feeling that quality of life at home is still better than it would be upon relocation. This is well demonstrated in the words of one supercommuter, cited in the Forbes article:

“Our quality of life is better here. My wife has a great job in a public school as a guidance counselor with great benefits that save us about $7,000 a year, and we have family who live a few miles from our house.”

As such, family matters can be decisive arguments when considering whether to relocate or commute. However, what about single employees?

Naturally, relatives and friends can constitute an important social circle, which is difficult to give up when relocating. However, there might also be another interesting reason. The article indicates that people are more ready to live mobile lifestyles rather than permanently relocate because of the collapse of the real estate market. Specifically, when getting a job in another city it might be difficult to sell the apartment in one’s home city, so one is forced to keep it.

All in all, there seem to be enough reasons for choosing to be a supercommuter and making travelling the long distance a more permanent lifestyle. Yet, it is just another choice of organizing one’s working life, which however brings us even closer to the growing ‘anywhere & anytime’ model of employment.

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