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Tag: return to the office

Helpful Tips for the Return to your Suburban Train Commute

If you’ve been wondering what it’s going to be like to commute again, here’s what I’ve recently experienced when I resumed my train ride to New York City.

I’ve been working from home for the better part of the past eighteen months. Though it’s surprising how much one is able to accomplish with remote video production technologies, the best video creation moments are often achieved through face-to-face interactions.

Yes, I know we’re still in the middle of the pandemic. But I’m vaccinated, and you can’t really stay in the bubble of your home forever. So, it was inevitable that the time would come for me to resume my train commute from Connecticut. Last week, I returned to my daily treks to New York City on Metro North.

If you’re on the cusp of your own return to the office and are about to restart your daily commute, you may need a few days to get back into the swing of things. That first week can feel like a marathon.

Here are some notes from my own experience.

Don’t Stray from your Pre-Commute Schedule
It’s an obvious point, but you can no longer simply roll out of bed and switch on your computer to begin your work day. You need to give yourself enough time to get presentable and out the door. (Zoom sweatpants don’t usually work in public settings.)

And you’ve got to move quickly. As I’ve said to my eleven-year-old son, the train doesn’t wait for you. You’ve got to be there when it arrives.

Yes, I made it to my train platform in time, but those last few minutes were uncomfortably tight. (On one day, I was running so late that I was forced to leave behind my beautiful bowl of oatmeal mixed with apples, raisins and banana.)

Say Goodbye to your Refrigerator
Speaking of food, if you’ve grown accustomed to your particular morning and afternoon snacks, you’ve now got to pack them. Sure, there’s plenty of food available in New York City, but it can be inconvenient to have to go out and hunt for it, especially when you’re hungry.

Unfortunately, your own fridge isn’t around the corner anymore.

Enjoy the Empty Train Ride
Happily, my usually packed parking lot had plenty of open spots for my car. And the Metro North trains I took were all relatively empty. Middle seats remained unoccupied, and nobody had to stand. Social distancing was easy.

And yes, everyone behaved and wore a mask.

Prepare for More Steps in your Day
Like me, you’ll probably see this as a real benefit. (Sitting in your home office can quickly generate a sedentary existence.)

While more walking is great, you may unexpectedly find yourself a little tired at the end of those first days. (I did.)

It’s simply a change of pace, and you’ve got to get used to it again.

Get More Sleep
Your commute will, of course, cut into your former non-travel free time. You may feel the urge to say up later at night to find that additional hour for ‘me time.’ But I think stealing from sleep is an unsustainable solution. It may seem counterintuitive, but if anything, you’re going to need a little more sleep for a while. That should help your body and mind accommodate your new schedule.

I baked a little more sleep into my rotation and found it really helpful in handling my next day.

Time to Stream!
Commuting on a Metro North train is a relatively comfortable experience. And it’s simple to pull out your smartphone or laptop and pretend that you’ve never left your home office. Or if you want to catch up on your Netflix fix, a train commute can be a perfect time for that.

Yay!

Expect an Adjustment
The reality is the train commute is mostly the same as before the pandemic, except that there aren’t as many people (at least not yet).

The real difference is simply having to get used to it again. It can take a few days.

As you get back to your own future, I recommend that you plan for this adjustment period.

Good luck and be safe!

Tales from a Suburban Commute: Business as Usual?

Are you also nervous about returning to your commute into the city? If you live in the suburbs, you may not be experiencing how life is returning to normal. Here’s my own story getting back into New York City, and what I witnessed.

Last week, I reactivated my old commute from Connecticut into Manhattan on a Metro North train. No, my work schedule hasn’t entirely shifted back, but it’s the beginning of a new normal for me. I don’t think I could have imagined this just a few short months back, but I’ve jumped back into the flow of the physical world, way beyond my limited and carefully curated social engagements during the pandemic.

I’m vaccinated, and I believe it’s finally time to take this step of reintegration. (Hopefully, the Delta variant doesn’t reverse this general trend in my area.)

My Return to New York City
This isn’t my first time back since the pandemic began. I’ve also been in Manhattan on weekends to visit my father, and I’ve recently traveled to the city on another occasion with my wife. We drove in for an event at a restaurant.

All of these trips felt both jarring and entirely normal, but my workday commute was especially surreal.

For those new and former road warriors from the suburbs who are on the cusp of the same return-to-the-office journey, here are my travel notes from my New York expeditions.

Train Parking
I was delighted that my station’s small parking lot was barely half filled. Not having to stress over whether I could find a spot on a workday was a joy. I think all of those empty parking spaces were due to summer vacations and remote work still in effect for many commuters.

New Haven Line Trains
My Metro North trains weren’t packed, but they weren’t entirely empty either. Everyone wore masks. Thankfully, the center seats remained unoccupied, as there was enough room for people to spread out.

I must admit I used to be a fan of taking the center seat, as opposed to having to stand for my entire train ride. No more.

And I think there’s a new, unspoken social-distancing norm not to sit shoulder-to-shoulder. We’ll see how that holds up as trains fill up in the fall.

Off-Peak Tickets
Metro North is not currently operating a full schedule. That means all trains are off peak. So DON’T buy a peak ticket from the ticket machine on the platform like I did. That’s a rookie mistake and a waste of money.

To add insult to injury, I had purchased a 10-pass ticket, because they’re less expensive per ride. (Peak ride, that is.) Thankfully, the train conductor kindly explained to me that you can fill out a form for a refund at the ticket counter in Grand Central Terminal. (If you do it within 24 hours, you can immediately exchange a peak ticket for off-peak rides.)

New York Subways
I couldn’t imagine myself in a subway during the pandemic, but here I was again… just like old times. Almost everybody was wearing a mask, although it’s supposed to be everyone.

The subway trains I took weren’t packed, but there wasn’t really enough space for true social distancing.

New York City Restaurants
My biggest shock as a suburban creature was to see so many New Yorkers happily packed into restaurants, and nobody wearing masks (with the exception of restaurant employees).

Sure, if you’re eating, you can’t wear a mask, but it wasn’t like people were re-masking between courses. There were no masks, and that was it.

The Power of Group Psychology
I’ve got to admit how quickly I was influenced by the group norms I passed through.

Remember that New York City restaurant my wife and I went to? We walked in wearing our masks. I was surrounded by what seemed like a sea of people happily chatting away, and there wasn’t a mask in the house. I immediately felt like some kind of leper. By the second, it became increasingly uncomfortable for me to keep my mask on, and it was off within moments.

The CDC currently says that’s okay for those who are vaccinated. But was everyone in the restaurant vaccinated? It’s impossible to know.

I’m not so sure what this all means about my resolve. Am I a lemming following an irresponsible course? Perhaps, I’m simply acting normal and following the science. To be fair, the guidance on safe pandemic practices is always changing.

Still, the intense power of group psychology is undeniable.

Back to the Future
Taking my first steps in my return to New York City were the hardest. It got easier from there. Much easier.

Do I feel safe? Well, I’m vaccinated. And I’m watching the headlines. For now, I’m okay with my choice.

At some point, you’ve got to go live your life. You can’t stay home forever.

If you want to dip your toe in the water and try a trip into the city, I’d say that now is a decent time for that. It’s not crowded.

Good luck, don’t forget your mask, and be prepared to feel the massive pull from the psychology of the masses.

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