Why work and travel have never been more compatible

One of the perks of the hybrid model is that it enables workers to spend less time commuting. So why is the concept of the ‘super commute’ — where people sometimes travel thousands of kilometres to get to the office — gaining traction? We delve into the unorthodox trend.

Hybrid working has given people more flexibility to choose where they work. For many, that has meant finding an office close to their home, where the commute is short and can be made on foot or by bike. But for others it has meant quite the opposite.

Global travelers – driven by wanderlust or work obligations in different countries – have been boosted by the hybrid revolution thanks to the availability of fully equipped work spaces all over the planet. This special type of super commuter is more productive than ever before and no longer needs to clock up so many trips in a year, as they can now extend professional excursions into longer working holidays rather than splitting travel into multiple work and leisure trips.

As a result, these super commuters often travel into their company headquarters a couple of times a month and spend the rest of their time far away from it. It’s a lifestyle that works well for digital nomads who want to experience different places and cultures. But it also works for people with families who want to move away from the big cities and settle in more remote areas, for example, or somewhere more affordable.

Texas to California

Product marketing manager Blaine Bassett commutes 300km from Lake Tahoe (where he snowboards and hikes through the redwood forests) to San Francisco (where he earns city wages and has a stable job). He makes the eight-hour round trip into headquarters a couple of times a month and often stays over at a friend’s house so he can get two days of face-to-face meetings for the travel effort. It started as a temporary plan during lockdown, but he has managed to make it last.

Physical therapist Frank Croasdale, is another super commuter. He travels 2,250km from Austin Texas to his practice in Redondo Beach, California, two or three times a month. He and his family moved to Austin in 2021 to live somewhere less expensive and less vulnerable to climate change. Even with the cost of air travel and the rental of a studio apartment for him to stay in while he’s travelling, he still saves money. Wages are higher in California, and taxes lower in Austin. It’s “win-win”, he says.

Work from anywhere

Blaine and Frank’s commutes are far from unique. Many workers made the same decisions to pack up and move away from the traditional working centres after lockdown. Rapid advances in technology and a comprehensive change of attitude towards ‘presenteeism’ – being at work just to ‘show face’, regardless of output or efficiency –  means that for many people now it is possible to work from anywhere – or at least, anywhere that has a stable internet connection.

Job search platform Flexa found the number of searches for fully remote roles (where there is no obligation to come into an office at all – ever!) rose by 21% between January and March this year. And IWG’s on-demand membership programme, which gives access to all of the group’s global locations, rose by 93% around the world in the past year. As increasing numbers of workers come to expect those kinds of flexible terms, forward thinking employers are responding. Organisations such as Airbnb and Spotify are among those that now offer a ‘work from anywhere’ option. And it works both ways, because by offering people access to flexspaces in different locations and giving them the freedom to choose where they are based, companies are able to massively expand their available talent pool, and have the potential to build a more global presence.

Reaping the benefits

Just like Frank Croasdale’s super commute, hybrid working is loaded with positives. Research regularly proves that hybrid workers feel happier. IWG stats show hybrid workers exercise more, eat healthier meals, sleep more and feel less stressed. That has knock-on benefits — they’re likely to feel more job satisfaction, therefore staying in a role for longer and being more productive.

There are proven financial perks too. When businesses embrace hybrid and rely less heavily on their large, city centre headquarters they can significantly cut costs. Cisco for example, has saved $500m in five years since switching to hybrid, primarily by streamlining its property portfolio.

The financial benefit isn’t just for individual companies either. Research by IWG and Arup shows that the rising footfall in rural and suburban areas, caused by people moving away from city centres, could generate annual increases in local consumer spending of $1.3 billion in the US and £327 million in the UK.

So, what does all this mean for the worker, and how does it change the landscape of commuting itself? Super commuting isn’t a brand new idea — long-distance business travel has been around for decades. But while it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, it’s a real eye-opener to the flexibility individuals now have thanks to the hybrid work model.

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