Ramblings of a Consultant: Commuting (part 1)

May 31, 2015
Consultancy life

If you’re a frequent reader of my blog, or if you happen to know me personally, you know I work as a consultant on fully automated IT infrastructure. In this capacity I spend most of my time at various clients, located in all parts of the Netherlands. This means I’m usually spending well over 10 hours a week in my car, commuting. It’s part of the job.

Perks of a High-Volume-Commuter (HVC)

Most people in my line of work drive serious distances; they’re High Volume Commuters, or HVCs. To put it in numbers: I usually drive somewhere between 45000 and 60000 kilometers each year, accounting for about 600 to 800 hours of driving each year. There are a few perks to being an HVC:

  1. Nice company car. At Xebia, we get to choose our own cars, within a reasonable budget. I spend my commuting hours in a nicely specced-out Volvo V40 D4. It’s comfortable, safe, plenty powerful (a powerful engine makes for more relaxed driving in my experience), and has all the bells and whistles I need in a car.
  2. Private use of company car. It’s not free, but I don’t need to buy a car for private use, so that’s nice. Especially when you have friends and family living 150km away from you.
  3. Getting to know the roads. I have probably seen all of the (many) highways in the Netherlands and can get from anywhere to anywhere without the need for in-car navigation. I only use my in-car navigation for ‘the last mile’ and for keeping track of my ETA.
  4. Plenty of time for phone calls. If you’re spending over 600 hours a year in you car, you might as well make good use of that time. I always try to schedule phone meetings during my commute, unless it’s a meeting that requires my full attention. But common phonecalls about progress reports, planning or just catching up are perfect ‘commute fillers’.

The disadvantages

As I said earlier, being a HVC is ‘part of the job’. And while it has its perks, it also has some disadvantages:

  1. Traffic jams. The Netherlands is a small country, with a awful lot of cars. Commuting a lot pretty much means spending a lot of time in traffic jams, unless you leave really early, or really late.
  2. Less free time. Your clients can be anywhere. If you’re lucky, they’re really close by. If you’re not so lucky, you end up driving for over 3 hours each day.
  3. Less time for exercise. I spend 8 hours a day working, sitting behind a desk. Then I spend my commute, also sitting. You could say it’s people like us who need the exercise, but we have little time to actually work out. I used to be slim, underweight even, but the past few years I’ve been battling a slight ‘IT spoiler’, and unless I seriously increase my amount of exercise, it’s a losing battle.
  4. Higher stress levels. Commuting in heavy traffic can be stressful and energy-consuming. It is certainly not quite as refreshing as cycling home for 20min after 8 hours of desk-time. It’s proven that exercise helps reducing stress, so it’s quite obvious that less exercise and more driving has the opposite effect.

So, now what?

Well, there are 3 options:

  1. Don’t become a HVC. Find a job close to home that you like. Nothing wrong with that.
  2. Accept the perks as well as the disadvantages. You’ll get a nice car that you spend a lot of time in. You’ll also get fat and will probably suffer from high blood-pressure and other stress-related issues (obstipation, insomnia, whatnot).
  3. Accept the perks, but find a way to get plenty of exercise. This will probably have some impact on your social life (unless your buddies work out as well) as you need to find the time, but at least you’ll stay reasonably healthy, which also means you could sleep for just 6-7 hours a night and still feel great (as opposed to sleeping for 10+ hours and waking up tired).

Short commute: grab your bike!

Recently I began working for a new client that’s located only 20km from my home. The daily commute however, is pretty bad. I got to think: if I’m driving at just 20km/h, I might as well just grab my bike.

And while I am seriously considering that idea, commuting by bike has its own set of complications. But this was a ‘part 1’ for a reason… Part 2 will be about the complications (and advantages) of commuting by bike. And if weather permits, maybe even about my experiences with cycling to the office.