Should reading emails on the commute count as work?

The pandemic has really messed with the nine-to-five. More people working from meant that priorities shifted during the day. Early risers could shun the commute and get straight to work on their laptops, night owls could work well past the 5pm cut off, and everyone could take some time back during other parts of the day.

But now we’re slowly starting to get back to ‘normal’ and being encouraged to get back to the office, does the commute now become part of your working day?

If you check your emails as soon as you wake up, the working day essentially kicks off before you’ve even stepped out of bed. But, if you regularly check your work emails before you clock on, whether at home or on the way to work, should this count towards your working day?

Switched on on the way to work

4G connectivity and improved wifi on public transport mean we can all check in on social media and emails (work or otherwise) at any time of day, no matter where we are or what else we might be doing.

And a University of West England  study of 5,000 rail passengers on commuter routes into London has found that wider access to wifi on trains, and improvements in mobile connectivity has extended the working day – “I am a busy mum and I rely on that time. ” and “It’s really important to my sanity that I can get work done on the train.” are just a couple of the reasons commuters have given for checking in while on the train.

The study found that more than half (54%) of commuters use the train’s wi-fi to send work emails, while a significant number of others using their own mobile phone connections for work emails. And both commutes to and from work were used to either prepare for the coming day, or round off that day’s work.

But this is blurring the boundaries between work and home life even more, and instead of technology freeing us up from the working day, it’s intensifying it – but this always on culture isn’t good for our life/work balance or our mental health.

Ideally, we should be using the commute as a time to transition to and from the working day.

How to best use the daily commute

The way we treat and deal with the morning commute is unique to all of us – some spend the time reading, others listening to music or the radio, while some of check in and out of work emails. In truth, there’s no right or wrong way to use this time, but if you’re extending your working day across the commute, this could actually be worse for productivity.

Even business leaders are warning of the dangers of blurring the boundaries between work and home life and the ways in which it can damage productivity if work becomes too pervasive.

Jamie Kerr, of the Institute of Directors, has said: “This increasing flexibility has the potential to radically shift the work-life balance for the better – but it also leaves open the door to stress and lower productivity. With the concept of clocking on and clocking off no longer straightforward, defining where leisure begins and work ends will be vital for both employers and individuals, as well as a complex task for regulators.”

While Matthew Percival, the CBI’s head of employment, said: “A common-sense approach is needed, giving individuals the tools to manage their work-life balance.”

If you want to know how we recommend you best use your commute, check out How to have a happier commute.

And let us know how you use your commute in the comments below.