It’s not just students who are gearing up for another school year as summer winds to a close. Some 1 million workers in the U.S. alone are expected to return to their cubicles this fall, with Meta leading the September back-to-work drive.
For many, it will mean regularly commuting for the first time since the pandemic forced businesses to shut shop and forced (or allowed) workers to carry out their jobs from the comfort of their own homes.
After some three years of hopping from bed to laptop, spending an hour on a train to do the same job can feel like a complete waste of time and money. But it doesn’t have to be.
It can provide the perfect time to clear your head, catch up on reading, or get in some exercise—at least, that’s according to the CEOs that Fortune spoke to. Here’s how 8 leaders are making the most of that journey time to and from work.
Unscheduled recognition calls
Who? David Meads, CEO of the tech conglomerate Cisco’s U.K & Ireland division
Mode of transport? Train or car
“During lockdown, my office became the ‘shed’ at the end of my garden. But now that my work commute is back, I realize just how much I missed it. Especially the time and space to mentally prepare for the day ahead, and then process the day’s events and switch off by the time I get home.
“My train journey involves preparing for the day’s meetings or reading or listening to podcasts, usually on business topics, politics, or world news. Otherwise, I use time in the car to make unscheduled calls, which often involves checking in on a colleague or giving them recognition for great work. While these calls may not take long, they always have a big impact and are for sure the best way to start or finish the day.”
Read a book
Who? Helen Andrews, CEO of one of the U.K’s largest advertising agencies, adam&eveDDB
Mode of transport? Subway
“I’m genuinely enjoying coming back to the office because of the commute, as previously I’ve always lived near work. So this is my first time as a bona fide commuter. I love it so much because I’m very strict about reading during it and I’m racing through loads of amazing books. For 30 mins a day first thing, just reading is the best start to my morning ever. Lately, I’ve read a lot of Booker-nominated novels like Percival Everett’s The Trees and Claire Keegan’s Small Things Like These, along with the likes of Zadie Smith’s NW and Monica Ali’s Love Marriage, and I’m currently loving Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus. On my way home, I’ll do work that needs doing—but the morning commute is mine.”
Put pen to paper
Who? Alex Weinstein, founder of the Dyninno Group consultancy
Mode of transport? Chauffeured into the office
“If I happen to be visiting one of the offices and I am being driven to the office, I spend this time for writing. As simple as that—no bullet points, no to-do lists. Just let your imagination flow. I simply take an empty notebook and a pen and write. I believe writing is a powerful tool for self-reflection and personal growth. I keep some of the notes and sometimes they develop into interesting stories and self-reflections. Sometimes I note down interesting things I have learned or situations I have encountered.
“I simply believe that getting access to your own insight isn’t difficult, all you have to do is commit to reflecting on a daily basis. If you don’t know where you start, just ask yourself, how am I feeling right now? What deserves my attention in my work, leadership, and in my life? What is the most interesting thing I’ve learned in the past day?”
A mindful moment
Who? Simon Myciunka, CEO of Europe’s leading commercial radio broadcaster, Bauer Media Audio UK
Mode of transport? On foot
“The daily rhythm of walking to work whilst listening to news updates, sets the tone for the day. These moments allow for self-reflection and preparation, really nurturing a sense of balance and focus. I also flick between the radio and podcasts about the economy, technology, and sport. All give me something different, allowing me to consume audio around personal interest, self-development, social currency, entertainment and whilst keeping a sense of community. All of which are vital in helping me successfully perform at work.
“Before and after the commute, I also walk my dog Oli, followed by a 10-minute guided meditation with my Yogi wife. After the challenges of the last couple of years, I’ve realized just how important rituals like these are to me and my well-being.”
Who? Tara Button, CEO of the retailer Buy Me Once
Mode of transport? Train + subway (or Lime bike, weather permitting)
“I spend my 30-minute commute doing what I like to call my brain yoga. It’s a daily mental practice without which I get ‘incredibly grumpy’ to quote my husband. My brain yoga takes the form of coming up with silly book ideas for kids. The freedom of creative fantastical thinking sets me up for a day in which my brain is often bullied into being incredibly sensible and practical. Also by allowing myself to be playful and inventive early in the morning, my creative thinking is aroused and carries on into my business and keeps me upbeat and positive throughout the day. On the way home I clean up my inbox of surplus emails and plan my tasks for the following day.”
Apple Car Play texts
Who? Natalie Cummins, CEO at the media agency Zenith UK
Mode of transport? Car
“This 35-50 minute period (short on a good day, longer on a bad one) in the morning is an important one to get ahead of stuff and I am a massive Apple Car Play user, where I listen to and respond to texts (over voice). Colleagues have now gotten used to the slightly weird tone of an ACP text, so I tend to use it for internal comms rather than for clients, but it is so useful. If I have an important meeting that day, I also use the car for rehearsal time. I usually knock out about 3 run-throughs of my charts in a 50-minute journey. At the end of an office day the car vibe is totally different: I use the car journey to blast out music and decompress!”
Listen and learn
Who? Jon Ostler, CEO of the comparison website finder.com
Mode of transport? Train or plane
“I’m dyslexic so I’ve always been a big fan of audio recordings, which is ideal for commuting, and so when I’m not listening to the latest business book or non-fiction via audible, I’m listening to a video conference recording or a document uploaded to Speechify. An advantage of audio is the ability to vary speed which is a real-time saver when catching up on any meetings of interest. On the return journey, I’ll likely finish off sending some messages before listening to some tunes—music is a great mood changer so it’s the perfect way to decompress and reset before reaching home.
“Once a month my commute is a little longer as I fly to New York to spend a week in our US office, so there is also plenty of time to listen to a book, report or even some lectures which I do via The Great Courses.”
… or you could ditch the conventional commute for exercise
Who? Stéphane Lefebvre, president and CEO of the world’s biggest circus producer, Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group
Mode of transport: On foot or plane
“In the summertime, I particularly enjoy running about 6 miles to work so I can experience a bit of fresh air and exercise before I sit down at my desk. While I run, I often listen to podcasts that relate to sports, or more specifically, the science of fitness and exercise, but I also take pleasure in listening to funny ones, like the Ron Burgundy Podcast. On occasions when I have to travel longer distances, such as hopping on a plane, I’ll answer emails and reflect on projects that we have in the works. It’s a luxury to have time to think and meditate on ideas while traveling, so I try to take advantage of the extra time.”
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