Working in Suburbia: Why Can’t More Companies Live Where We Do?

Commuting has always been a thorn in the side of the modern worker. With the spread of urban sprawl and creation of suburb communities, work commutes continue to increase in length and time year over year. If you happen to be one of the people considered an “extreme commuter” who spends three or more hours a day traveling to and from work, I bet you’re sitting there rationalizing away the hardships as “just part of the job.” Stop already! Your time is too valuable. Trust me, I’ve been there.

I used to commute regularly between the neighboring cities of Seattle and Bellevue. My commute times ranged anywhere from 25 minutes when there was little to no traffic, to well over an hour. A particularly severe snow storm once stretched a one-way trip to 4 hours door-to-door. After that, I decided that the drain on my time and sanity (Seattle drivers are the worst!) was outweighing the benefits of living where I did and made the decision to move closer to my job.

Dana Mattioli of the Wall Street Journal recently spotlighted the oft-ignored city-to-suburb commuter. Focusing mostly on those living in Manhattan and other northeastern cities, she highlights the perceived challenges these workers face now that they don’t spend as much time in the big city.

“Not surprisingly, recruiters often have a hard time getting 20-somethings to consider jobs in the suburbs. They take issue “not with the job but with their free time,” said Rich Vandermay, president of Management Recruiters of Yorba Linda, an executive-search company in California.”

“Matt DePascale, 24, says he used to socialize with co-workers three to four times a week when he worked in Legg Mason Inc.’s downtown Manhattan office. In recent months, he accepted an offer at the money-management firm’s Stamford, Conn., office and says that by the time he gets home to his Manhattan apartment, he’s often too tired to go out. “Now I have to take the train to Manhattan, go home to drop off my bag, and then go out to meet up with friends. It’s more of a production,” he said.”

My company has recently moved offices from a trendy suburban neighborhood just north of Seattle to chic new corporate offices in the heart of downtown. This has caused a huge shift in how people get to work and spend their time there.

At the old office, there was access to a free parking garage and unlimited, free street parking. Therefore, most people drove themselves to and from work everyday. This was great if you had an unusual schedule (outside of 9 to 5), attended events or activities right before/after work, needed to run errands in the middle of the day or pick up kids.

The new office is now in the commercial core where parking is at a premium but where public transportation is much more frequent. Therefore most people now ride the bus, which takes more time and involves less comfort, or spend anywhere between $150 – $200 a month for a parking spot at a nearby garage. People are now leaving earlier, spending less time socializing after work and have had to readjust personal priorities to accommodate the new demands on their time.

According to Mattioli’s article, working in a metropolitan setting should be opening up opportunities for cultural activities, good food, more time with friends, etc. However, I’ve found the opposite to be true. My productivity has gone down since I’m in the office less (I have to be out of my paid parking spot by 6pm) and I’ve had to cut back on my personal activities since I’m not able to make it to them on time now that my commute time has doubled. I rarely venture out at lunch since I feel like I have to make the most of my time in the office since I’m not there as long. And happy hour is all but non-existent now since people are racing off to catch the bus at the end of the day.

The people profiled in the Wall Street Journal complain about loss of time and cultural amenities. Well guess what? When you commute, you waste time. It doesn’t matter if you are going into a city or out of one. And what about the unique advantages of the suburbs they work in? You could attend BBQ’s at a co-worker’s home just down the street from the office or visit the corner store for a soda pop or knick-knack. You could enjoy walking down a tree-lined street without being begged for change and perhaps enjoy a more laid-back corporate culture.

The location of where you work hugely impacts your life and overall well-being. Commuting is one of the more significant factors by which satisfaction at work is measured. So if you are thinking of changing jobs or moving, consider your commute honestly before making a change or you could really regret it later.


4 responses »

  1. I found your site on google blog search and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. Just added your RSS feed to my feed reader. Look forward to reading more from you.

    – Sue.

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