For all the excitement and relief many of us are feeling at the prospect of returning to the office-returning to adult conversations, companionship, and the synergistic exchange of ideas with peers-there are few people that actually enjoy the idea of a lengthy commute. Sure, some people had viewed pre-pandemic travel time as an opportunity to get caught up on books on tape, reading on public transportation, or even just blessed peace between the frenzy of child wrangling and the stress of the workday. Having just spent over a year rolling out of bed, showering, and getting to work, we have become a bit unused to the effort it takes to get from point a to point b…and let’s face it, commuting via bus or train is VERY different after a global pandemic that vilifies even existing within a six-foot radius of another human being.
Once upon a time, we would cram ourselves into a train or subway car, often standing crushed against any number of strangers, gripping a metal bar for support, all while sweating and breathing each other’s air. Since the pandemic, New York has reduced the number of trains, which only means those that are in service will be that much more crowded. Adjustments on the part of passengers must be made, based on what we now know about the ease with which germs are spread.
Wear your mask!!!
It seems silly to have to say this, but many Asian countries have been doing this for years. It should not take a pandemic for a logical person to realize that covering your nose and mouth will limit your exposure to outside germs and pathogens. Think about how close you are being forced to sit or stand to so many strangers…These people could have been anywhere! These people could be doing anything! We aren’t suggesting a world full of germaphobes who are suspicious everyone but use common sense! Even before the pandemic, experienced commuters would always see a couple of people during each trip who wore masks, and everyone else would kind of roll their eyes at those folks. In retrospect, those people were just being sensible! They probably had way less exposure to cold, flu, and gastrointestinal illness than the people that rolled their eyes at the mask wearing. Ultimately, the mask wearers probably missed a lot less work.
Wash your hands!
In another seemingly obvious example of common sense, the practice of handwashing that our parents tried to instill in us as kids has never been more relevant. You are touching surfaces that have been touched by literally hundreds of people before you. Surely, the MTA does their best to clean and sanitize seats, poles and handles and grips at some point, but we all know that New York transit runs constantly-who knows when these buses, trains, or taxis get cleaned. Use hand sanitizer before and after using public transportation, and then wash your hands immediately upon arrival at the office.
Do not eat aboard public transportation!
It is tempting to try to save time by grabbing a bagel from a street vendor or sipping from a coffee you have brought from home, but it makes no sense to take the chance by introducing germs into your mouth when we have just suggested you take other measures to prevent doing so. Eat at home or at your desk before start of business to protect yourself and others from infection. Also, it is unpleasant for other passengers to watch you eat. You are sharing the space, be considerate.
According to CDC guidelines, the easiest way to avoid illness while traveling is to do so by driving in a car, alone. This has translated into increased car sales during the pandemic, as reported by Forbes Magazine in a 2020 article about the changing landscape of the workforce during the pandemic, and the lasting results of those changes. Whether the continued reliance on personal vehicles one traffic is back up and running can be sustainable, remains to be seen. According to metro officials, the streets of Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs simply can’t handle all those cars. Increased travel time and the cost of fuel and maintenance will have to be considered as well when employees are planning out their returns to the office.
Regardless of the method workers end up using to get back into the office, irreversible changes have already been made as to what that will entail. Businesses are learning that they can be flexible with employees, whether it is by letting them work at least partly from home, or by working at times that would have previously been considered outside of business hours to allow for people to travel to work beyond high traffic, high exposure travel times like traditional rush hours. Whether accepting a new job, or returning to a new one, how and when we can safely get to work should be discussed with employers as the American workforce hopefully recovers.