should I apply for jobs I wouldn’t normally be willing to commute to?

A reader writes:

I left my previous full-time job at the end of last year and have been doing some freelancing while I figure out what I want to do next. I’ve started applying to some full-time jobs, but nothing has come through yet. Pre-pandemic, an important consideration for me in applying for a job was the commute. My previous full-time job was a 20-minute commute and while I know I’m not likely to find something that close to home again, I don’t want to more than double that time. So far, I’ve been applying that criterion to the jobs I’m considering applying for. However, I keep reading things like “working in an office as we knew it is over,” more people will be commuting by private vehicle instead of public transportation, etc. My doctor told me she thinks we’ll be socially distancing for the next two years.

I’m wondering whether I should be rethinking my commuting criterion, given that any job I get might have me working from home for the next year or two. There are some great jobs out there that normally I would be hesitant to apply for, given their distance/difficulty to get to on public transit from where I live. But maybe being able to start out working from home would give me the opportunity to figure out if it’s a job I’d be willing to move to be closer to at some point, or be willing to make a tough commute from where I live now — something that’s really hard to determine under normal circumstances, before you even start the job. What do you think?

It’s a hard question to answer right now because things are still changing so much. If I had to answer as things are right now, I would say no, don’t rely on that assumption. Too many offices are bringing people back far earlier than they should be, and my mail is full of letters from people upset that they’re being pushed to return much earlier than it had previously sounded like they could expect. There’s a lot of risk that a job that’s allowing remote work for now could change that in the next few months.

But we’re in a major state of flux and things might change significantly by the fall, depending on what the second (and probably third) wave of infections looks like. Companies rushing to re-open might realize that’s unsustainable. Or they might not. We don’t know yet — but a lot of things are going to be changing between now and the end of the year, and so it’s hard to say right now, “Yes, it will definitely be X way.”

So for now, I wouldn’t count on anything other than uncertainty.

{ 96 comments… read them below }

  1. Bostonian*

    Hi Op! That answer might not be a very satisfying one, but it’s a very realistic one.

    Even I wouldn’t be able to predict with any semblance of accuracy when I’m going back to the office: and that’s with 6 years of institutional knowledge about my company’s culture, the plans they’ve communicated to us so far, and reading in between the lines based on past promises/experiences.

    If anything, I don’t think it would hurt to ask during an interview how the company’s work environment has changed in response to the pandemic and what their plans are long-term. The interviewer may not have all the answers, but it could give you a better sense of whether it’s a few months or next week.

    (And for what it’s worth, I don’t think the estimate from your doctor that we will have some form of social distancing for 2 years necessarily means that that’s how long it will take to completely refill offices.)

    1. Stephanie*

      Yeah, I know the plan for my company is that desks will have to be six feet apart and conference rooms will be closed.

      My department was hot desking prior to this (everyone hated it). Turns out, it took a pandemic to get rid of that setup.

      1. Dancing Otter*

        I have to wonder how companies are going to space people six feet apart with the same amount of square footage. The last time I was at a company expanding its leasehold, it took almost two YEARS to get the new floor ready. That assumes that the building even has additional space available.

        Tearing out all the conference rooms would help, I guess.

        1. Queen Anon*

          I wonder if cubicles will make a comeback, one per person, no visitors in a cubicle. (So if, say, IT needs to look at a computer, the cubicle resident will need to leave it completely.) Which is actually what my office will be doing. (We already have cubicles.)

          1. JustaTech*

            Oh how I wish we could have our cube walls back! My company had *just* finished an office renovation when COVID hit, so that’s never going to happen. Oddly, because they were honest about how many people were actually working in all the spaces, the desk pods (4 desks touching in a + shape) are quite far apart (8-10 feet, I measured). If people only sat kitty-corner in the pods we’d probably be good, but we don’t, so my office has said we must mask while sitting in the cubes.

            Which is why I’m only going in on the days I need lab equipment.

        2. Liz*

          My co workers and I are wondering this right now. Last fall we moved to a new building; where the footprint is MUCH smaller, and even walking down an aisle of cubes there is barely enough room for 2 people to get by. More people have offices, but the rest of us are in cubes, and while they have full height walls, they are not 6 feet apart. Add to that, the fact many people are just gross. cough without covering their mouths, not great at handwashing after using the restroom, etc.

          i’m actually perfectly happy working from home for as long as I can. I don’t see me being able to sustain wearing a mask all day, since i wear glasses and they fog up no matterwhat i do!

          1. Mr. Shark*

            If they have full height walls, wouldn’t that be sufficient? I’m assuming that means if you stand up, you still can’t see into the next cubicle, right?

            If you’re talking about the cubicle across the aisle being less than 6 feet, I understand that. That’s not nearly enough room.

    2. Beth Jacobs*

      Yes. Covid is likely to stick around at least another year, so things like summer music festivals might really be out for that time. But I do think it’s unlikely a strict shelter-in-place could last that long. I’m in Europe and we’re all back at the office with the exception of high-risk individuals. That doesn’t mean we aren’t social distancing, we’re still taking plenty of measures.
      For what it’s worth, most doctors aren’t epidemiologists and she was probably just making small talk the way all of us are right now. We’re all just speculating.

    3. EastCoast*

      So happy someone asked this question! I have been wondering the same thing.

      I think if it is a forward looking company/start-up like (the regional similarities to Twitters/Reddits/etc.), this is something you can definitely bring up, and having a condition like 3-4 days WFH a week conditional in your offer is not a far-reaching ask in the current (and near-mid future) climate.

  2. Amsassafrass*

    I think it’d be incredibly important during the interview to divulge your expectations and requirements around commuting/remote working.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      This. That way, if the employer has objections to WFH full time, OP knows this ahead of time and can plan next steps accordingly.

    2. remizidae*

      Asking about how the company has handled the COVID crisis in general is a good way to lead up to the working from home question–and could give you some insight into their culture.

      1. Notwithstanding the Foregoing*

        I think it is hard for many companies to fully know what the months ahead bring. My employer had indicated that many of us will work from home until the autumn and that WFH may continue to be a component of our jobs after that. However, we had severe thunderstorms roll thought last week and many employees lost power for days. These types are storms are not uncommon in the summer, so I have heard that WFH plans are being rethought. This is just an example of something that companies, even those who do have clearly thought out plans, may still be dealing with.

    3. sacados*

      Absolutely agree to this. I think it’s perfectly fine for OP to apply to these types of jobs (I wouldn’t apply to something in another state, or the kind of commute that no reasonable person would sign up for on the daily) and then bring it up during the interview process.
      Ask about the COVID response, the current and future work from home plans, etc.

      I know my company for example, has said it’s extremely likely that — for those of us who don’t need to be in the office to effectively do our jobs — we should assume that barring a vaccine appearing on the market next week, we will be working from home through the end of the year.
      So a situation like that would give OP plenty of time to figure out if they like the job enough to move/deal with an hour long commute/etc.

    4. blaise zamboni*

      Yes. I don’t think it’s terrible to apply for jobs that you’d otherwise skip because of the commute. But be very clear about that upfront. I’d ask about their plans towards the end of the phone screen – neither party wants to waste their time if it’s ultimately not going to work out. Get a sense of the job and how interested you are; ask if they are currently WFH and if so, what are their plans for that going forward; and weigh your interest in the job against their answer, whatever that may be.

      I would caution not to bank on their prediction being 100% accurate, though. If their answer is an enthusiastic, “yeah we’re changing to WFH permanently!” then great. But if they say they expect to return in 6 months…are you willing/able to start commuting if that suddenly changes to 3 months? Try to be realistic about the worst-case scenario.

      There’s nothing wrong, IMO, with politely inquiring about WFH in the topsy-turvy world we’re in right now. If the job isn’t a good fit for you based on their answers, you can respectfully decline and move forward. You would have moved on from that job anyway, so no huge loss. Good luck with your search!

    5. Matilda Bott*

      But be careful of bait-and-switch, even at these times. I took a job at the edge of my acceptable commuting distance because I was assured during the interview process that we could set up WFH a couple of days a week. For the next six months, my manager continued to pay lip service to the idea but was always able to find some reason why it couldn’t start — needing some vague “approval”, needing to set up remote access to a system I don’t use, etc. Of course all of these reasons dissolved when the lockdown came and we are all perfectly successfully working from home.

  3. LDN Layabout*

    Yup. Even though we’ve all been told our office’s will be 100% closed until Autumn and more than likely beyond that, as someone who’s usually office based I’ll be checking in with my manager to confirm I can wfh from my family’s home rather than mine (once travel/interaction is allowed) even though it’s a miniscule chance they’d notice otherwise.

    You can’t just take things for granted in this situation.

    1. CostAlltheThings*

      If you’re family home is in another state, don’t be surprised if they tell you no since that opens them up to nexus :)

      1. JSPS*

        If your primary residence is in the same state as the employer (as determined by taxes, car registration, credit card billing, where you vote etc), I’m not sure that working from some other temporary location is problematic. Anyone know more? A lot of people have been temporarily hunkered down at “not my normal / not my official / not my legal primary residence.” State and federal regs have been pretty accommodating.

    2. sacados*

      Yeah my employer had a Return to Work Q&A last week where they talked about a lot of this — the only thing they mentioned was to check into your health insurance/how being in a new location might affect costs there if you need to see a doc; and also that the one thing we needed to watch out for was if you stayed there long enough to trigger any residency requirements which would be problematic if the employer is not set up in that state.

  4. Stephanie*

    I wouldn’t rely on this. I imagine more companies will be ok with more frequent work from home (my department work from home was a more one-off thing), but they may call people back in at any moment. I’ve been looking into moving and am trying to remember that I still need to be commutable to my office wherever I do end up moving.

    Alternatively, you may need to ask yourself if you’d be ok moving for the right role.

  5. Johanna Cabal*

    Another thing to consider about distance: if you plan to continue looking for a job closer to home, a long commute will make it hard to schedule interviews. And I say this based on an experience I never want to repeat.

  6. Colette*

    I think you have to evaluate:
    – how likely are you to find a job closer to home?
    – how desperate are you for a job?
    – how set are you on living where you live? (Do you have anyone else who would be affected if you wanted to move closer to work?)

    I wouldn’t recommend you open up your search based on the assumption that you’ll be working from home for more than the short term. They could discover a cure tomorrow; you could end up working for a boss who doesn’t believe the virus is real/dangerous; there could be technical reasons why working from home is unsustainable.

  7. Mama Bear*

    I would apply for a job where you won’t be suffering a commute you hate figuring that most companies will roll back WFH and you need to be prepared to go to the office at any time. My company has been generous, but there’s a lot of talk about canceling the WFH options soon. There is also a difference in social distancing and WFH. We may be called back to the office soon, but masks and distancing will still be a part of our in-office life. I agree that it doesn’t hurt to ask, but I’d keep that commute criteria if that’s important to you.

  8. Ashley*

    There are some larger companies you maybe be able to consider that have made more public statements about how long people are able work from home. Thankfully a handful of companies have recognized the old cube farm doesn’t cut it and are so far being responsible. You could consider applying for some of those companies and then discussing remote work more during a phone screen initial interview.

  9. PrgrmMngr*

    I’m currently job searching and applying for interesting jobs with a commute I’d previously given up and didn’t care to return to. I figure during the process, I can ask about long term remote work expectations. I’m under no obligation to accept a job I apply for if it sounds like it may be unfeasible for me due to the commute in the near future.

    1. juliebulie*

      Exactly! OP, go ahead and apply for the jobs you think you might like. Then forget about them until you start getting interviews. You can use the interview to feel them out, and if you get an offer that’s the time to negotiate about your commute.

      I’ll also tell you that a 1-hour commute to a job and people you like is much better than a 15 minute commute to a job and people that eat your soul.

    2. OP*

      Yes, I was just thinking that perhaps the more obvious “no” would be “should I ACCEPT a job I wouldn’t want to commute to?” I agree with both of you that it doesn’t hurt to apply, and agree w what others have said about making sure questions about eventual return to the office, etc. are part of any interviews I might get.

      1. Done with job hunting*

        Be careful with that though. When I had been laid off for a while and prospects were slim, I applied for a jobs beyond sustainable commuting range for me in order to satisfy my state’s unemployment compensation requirements to be actively searching for work. I got a couple of interviews for jobs that suited my skills and experience. I was turned down for one positions that I might have considered since it was with a good company with a number of locations in the area with the possibility of move closer to home. The other job was a contract-to-permanent position with a a leading company in my field and the job description was like a dream. During the interview it became clear that the job involved only the most boring, repetitive piece of the job description at low pay and was unlikely to lead to permanent employment, never mind a commute from hell. I called the placement agency involved from the parking lot after the interview and told them that I was withdrawing. They were very, very annoyed because the interviewer had indicated already I was in the running and the recruiter saw his commision disappearing. Because I need to report the contact that week or lose benefits, I held my breath for few weeks that the state would not chose that company to contact to confirm I was job searching and learn that I withdrew knowing there was an offer.

    3. Venus*

      Agreed, and a few other commenters are saying something similar. Apply, and make it clear during the process that you don’t want to commute every day. If the commute is an hour then maybe you can ask to work from home 3 days per week, so your overall weekly commute is 4 hours (2days x 2 hours) in comparison to your previous commute of 3.3 hours (5 days x 40 mins). I think the only big change is that companies are more open to some WFH, and if you offer to go into work some days then hopefully they will be flexible. If they are then get it in writing!

  10. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    I don’t think you can make any assumptions about the future and the pandemic, but just be prepared to ask a lot of questions and do what’s best for you. As far as the commute goes (not sure where you live but a 20 minute commute sounds like heaven to me LOL), I think you should at least consider jobs regardless of commute, depending on other factors that are important to you. Back in the early 2000s I was laid off (for the first time). When a recruiter called me for a job interview, the job was a 50 mile (one way) commute through 2 major rush hour areas. It took me an hour and a half each way on a good day. But I had been out of work for a long time, the salary was significantly higher than my last job, it offered an opportunity to advance my career in a different direction, I was younger and single, and I had different priorities. I also asked in my interview if they would allow me to work off hours (not the typical 9-5 so I was hitting traffic at more desirable times). I worked there for 5 years. moving closer after 2 years. It worked out great at that point in my life. But now, unless I was 1 step from being homeless, I would never even consider such a long commute again.

    1. OwlEditor*

      I did something similar, but I ended up moving because the commute, while only 30 minutes one way, about killed me. There was public transport that took about an hour each way, but it was quicker to drive… however, during rush hour and with two major construction projects on two of the major roads/highways I used, driving home took about an hour. I hated getting home at 7pm and had to start taking lunch and dinner to the office. I ended up moving to a nice apartment two miles away and I love it. Also, my then landlady went a little crazy on me, so it was time to move.
      We’re now at WFH until October, which I hate, but I’m grateful my employer is taking this seriously… so I guess you could move if it got to that point. I love my job, but the commute was killing me. So maybe think of it that way, moving could be an option.

    2. Joielle*

      Yeah, I took a job right after law school that was an hour commute each way (or up to three hours during a bad snowstorm, a couple of memorable times). I only stayed for a year but it was the kind of job that would open up a lot of other opportunities, so the awful commute it was worth it.

      Regardless of what they say during an interview, I probably wouldn’t accept a job that I absolutely could not commute to, since it’s impossible to say when you might have to start doing that. But I would accept a job that had a less-than-optimal commute, especially if you’re considering moving closer in the future but want to test drive the job first. Just something to think about: a thing I didn’t take into consideration when deciding on my long-commute job was the amount of money I had to spend on the car itself! I calculated gas costs but not things like more frequent oil changes, tire rotations, buying new tires sooner, minor damage from driving a lot… it added up to more money than I realized.

    3. Bostonian*

      Ditto. I took a job with a long commute knowing I was 99% likely move closer within 2 years. Since OP stated being willing to move if it’s the right area, that definitely factors into the calculus.

  11. Genny*

    I’m probably biased given my own experience (we can telework, but we can only accomplish about 60% of our work if we’re not in the office), but I have a hard time believing we’ll be socially distancing for the next two years. I don’t see companies waiting that long to bring everyone back. If I had to bet, I’d bet that people are basically back in the office by the end 2020 and I’d make any job application decisions based on that.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      On the two-year timeline, I could maybe see something like “no big concerts or other packed stadium events.”

      I mean, your doctor will still see you in person if they need to do something that requires your physical presence. And that’s with the highest levels of physical distancing.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I just read that New Zealand is back to normal, at least for now. Concerts, weddings, shopping, etc.

        1. allathian*

          Yes, but in New Zealand things are good. In a population of 4.9 million people, they have a total of approx. 1.500 confirmed and probable but not confirmed cases (of which 350 probable but not confirmed), 22 deaths in total and 0 people currently hospitalized. So opening up there is warranted, especially as they’re still limiting international travel. It’s not comparable to most parts of the world.

        2. JSPA*

          That’s because they have a small population, excellent health care system, and their country is a set of islands far enough from anywhere else that all travel is regulated / regulatable. They were able to slam the borders entirely shut, do a fairly hard shutdown, detect all cases, then track and quarantine all contacts. It’s a great victory, but not a model for most other countries.

          They also know that, upon opening with Australia, they may get new transmission, and they’re prepared to shut down again, if needed.

    2. Joielle*

      And even if we are doing some version of social distancing for two years, I don’t think that means we’ll all be working from home for that whole time. People will go back to offices sooner than other activities. I could see more WFH days being allowed long-term, but not 100% remote unless the position was already intended to be that way.

    3. White Peonies*

      Yes, I work for a large health insurance company and we have been adding sneeze guards to the cube farm walls to get them up to 5 feet tall, taking out kitchens, conference rooms & meeting areas to get ready for the new workplace. Our company is planning on everyone that was sent home returning to the office after Labor day.

    4. Jiya*

      My office has been perfectly happy to let me do 100% work from home, but nonetheless, I think it’s a bit much to expect our current level of social distancing for two solid years – even the most pessimistic projections don’t call for that. It’s more that until we have a vaccine, we’ll have to periodically distance in places where there are breakouts. (Assuming, of course, we get things under control by testing and contact tracing enough to slow spread.)

    5. OP*

      Yeah, I’ve known my doctor long enough to know that she skews to the conservative side in terms of recommendations, although she does have a public health background so is perhaps better informed than some other primary care doctors. I do tend to agree with what folks in this particular comment thread have said about it being unlikely that 100% WFH will be a component of social distancing for 2 years (if for no other reason than capitalism usually tends to win out). But I think that allowing more people to WFH for more of the time will probably be happening – in many sectors companies are already finding out that it’s very feasible. I like the idea that someone mentioned elsewhere here about thinking about a partial WFH scenario where the fewer days I would have to commute would balance the longer amount of time.

      1. Avasarala*

        I think we will definitely see major changes but I think your doctor underestimates the hunger to return to normalcy. I hope we sustain some changes, and I think some parts of work “as we know it” are “over” (not cleaning surfaces and so on), but things like “more people will be commuting by private vehicle instead of public transportation”… I don’t see this happening in places where people really rely on public transport. Ecology and urbanization trends are too strong for that.

  12. Smithy*

    Another thing I’ve noticed where I recently work is if this additional distance you refer to includes a multi-state metro area – my organization is starting to heavily bristle around how it will officially look at people who switch to 100% remote.

    Essentially if you get approved to be 100% remote, your work location has to be in one of the US states where we are registered but also that it could change your salary band from the “major metropolitan area” to “state with lower cost of living”. Therefore, while my organization has announced that basically until the end of 2020 there’s a lot of flexibility around where people work from, my sense is they’re only doing that to buy themselves more time to decide what a long-term HR approach will be.

    For example, someone who lives in the parts of say Pennsylvania, West Virginia or Delaware where DC can be a commute – but a fairly significant one. I would NOT recommend seeking a DC-based job at my organization with the hopes that it could become long-term 100% remote at this time. You could hear it’s not possible due to lack of being registered in your specific state or worse, that because those states don’t have the same cost of living as DC, to be 100% remote would result in a salary cut based on your geography. Hopefully 12 months from now, our HR will have more concrete guidance, but for someone applying/interviewing now – you wouldn’t be getting any genuine clarity.

  13. hmmm*

    You could look for complete telecommuting jobs depending on your industry. My husband works 100% from home for a company in another state. He only travels there a few times a year (and none this year).

    1. OP*

      I did just see a really good remote position advertised but unfortunately because the org is in a much lower cost of living area, it pays about half of what it would pay where I live (sigh).

      1. Aphrodite*

        Remember to include in your consideration that you wouldn’t be paying for commuting costs (gas, parking, maintenance, insurance based on higher mileage, registration, etc.), office clothes, lunches out, and more. That lowers your cost of living though perhaps not to the degree you need.

          1. valentine*

            They may not keep it remote, so you’d do well to save for that, even if willing to leave over it.

  14. Black Horse Dancing*

    You may want to write in your cover letter you are seeking remote work or WFH three times a week, etc. I know any number of hiring managers who would be annoyed to get to interview stage to have a potentiol employee say “Oh, I need WFH”, especially if the ad/hiring post didn’t list remote. Or ask at phone screen/initial contact.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Yup. When I was job searching early last year for a fully remote position, I brought up the desire for remote work in my cover letter (for positions that didn’t expressly list it as an option and for those that said remote work was a possibility) and again during the initial HR phone screen. It worked out well – the companies that didn’t allow it could say no upfront and I’d bow out of the running, and the ones that were open to it could tell me ahead of time what their parameters for WFH were and let me decide if I was okay with the policy before proceeding to interview.

      1. 867-5309*

        Late to the party here, but agree with this completely. We make in clear in our job postings that the team is WFH through summer and then we will return to a hybrid model that expects people to be in the office 1-2 days per week. A few people applied and then said during the interview that they only wanted full-time WFH. It wasted my time when we were VERY clear in the job posting.

        If the job doesn’t say full-time work from home, then I would at least mention it when contacted about the first interview.

  15. Sunset Maple*

    I’m noticing recruiters doing this–trying to lure people in with temporary remote work that will eventually become a very long commute. When I inquire about whether the job is meant to be on-site, they beat around the bush, then finally admit that the company goal is to get everyone back to the office.

    One recruiter acted flabbergasted that I didn’t want a job in downtown NYC, which is 2.5 hours away from me.

    1. Quill*

      Same, but with the caveat that “chicago area” is up to four hours wide during normal commuting hours, and that they’ve been doing it since before the pandemic.

  16. RobotWithHumanHair*

    I was tempted to apply for a job today that would have ended up with a commute that’s double the commute of my furloughed job (80mi vs. 40 mi.), but the listing didn’t even have a guarantee of minimum pay, just a Glassdoor “estimate”, where the lower end would be about 2/3 of my furloughed job and the higher end would be a shade above. And no WFH opportunity either due to the nature of the job. So I passed on that because the additional wear and tear on my already falling-apart car and additional gas costs just wouldn’t make it worth it at all.

  17. WellRed*

    I would never go by what a doctor thinks applies to the working world. I think they often apply worst case scenario, but that’s not practical in real life (rightly or wrongly). Kinds like when you get a prescription and then find out how much it costs to fill.
    I wouldn’t apply to jobs you wouldn’t commute to.

    1. ShanShan*

      Going back to work too early *would* be the worst case scenario. It would get a lot more people killed. If anything, the doctor is being overly optimistic about how much employers care about that.

      And, for the record, in a lot of cases, you doctor will prescribe something cheaper if you ask.

    2. Beth Jacobs*

      Well the doctor said social distancing, which is probably true. Some restrictions are likely to be in place for that long, but that doesn’t mean we’ll all be working from home. And nothing indicates the doctor was even stating it as medical fact, I’d assume it was more chit chat. We’re all making predictions right now.
      Most doctors are not epidemiologists and even those that are may not necessarily be experts on other aspects of public policy that need to be taken into account. While it may be interesting to speculate, no one actually knows what things will be like in two years.

  18. Ann O'Nemity*

    Lots of things to consider:.
    How desperate are you for a job, even if it’s less than ideal?
    How long would you need to stay in the job? (Based on industry standards and your own work history.)
    What are the employer’s plan to return to the office or continue to allow WFH?

    If I was desperate for a job, I’d probably accept a longer commute time, especially if I knew that I could WFH a few days a week.

    1. JSPA*

      Or take the job while it’s remote, and try for something else when that changes, especially if it’s outside of your core career goals, and you don’t necessarily need anyone there for a reference. (Assuming you can do an excellent job for them remotely, of course, in whatever time you’ll be with them.)

      Just as nobody will bat an eye at “furloughed during the shut-down” or “company went under,” I suspect most employers won’t be too upset to see someone having job that is in some way unusual: two steps down in pay or status, briefer than usual.

      A lot of people will be taking “something that works for now, and might or might not be workable, longer-term.”

      Say a prospective hire told me in 4 months, after 3 months in their current job, “I could do a good job remotely, and it paid adequately so long as I was WFH. But it’s not my speciality, and the numbers and risks didn’t add up when they suddenly sprang a very aggressive opening plan on us.”

      Why would I hold the short stint against them? They’re not indicating capriciousness, bad judgement, inability to get along with co-workers, or any of the other things that might make someone look askance at a short stint.

  19. pcake*

    Don’t count on working from home if you apply for a regular job that’s working from home for now. My daughter manages a business, and she and her crew been working at home since early March. It’s been 100% effective, as they did all their business online and by phone – yet they suddenly called her back to the office anyway. And my husband, who’s been working from home since mid-March will have to return to work July 1.

    If you want to work from home, apply for jobs that are always work from home positions, or maybe you could discuss with potential employers if you can WFM at least 2 days a week if you don’t like the commute.

    1. AW*

      Yep. Sounds like my experience. I was doing my work just fine from home for six weeks and so were several coworkers, but as soon as my state announced that certain restrictions were going to be eased starting May 1st, my employer thought that meant it was time to bring everybody back to the office. And instead of being more open to occasional WFH in the future, they are strengthening the policy to make it harder to qualify to WFH and restricting it to 4 hours a day.

      1. JSPA*

        I get the feeling that lot of companies are playing chicken, hoping that their employees with health conditions will quit (and lighten the payroll and insurance). If you can prove it, it’s got to be some sort of discrimination, but so long as so many companies are doing it, it’s hard to prove that’s the motivation (as opposed to pure lack of common sense).

    2. alienor*

      It’s been the same for me. The company has openly admitted that WFH is working, but they’re still bringing us back in groups starting the week after next, saying “we need to be together.” I’m not sure how together we’re going to be, considering that we’re required to stay at our desks and have all our meetings by video, but there it is. So I would definitely advise the OP to look for jobs that are meant to be remote and are advertised as such.

      1. allathian*

        Sounds like all of the disadvantages of working in an office and none of the advantages… I would hate to be forced to wear a mask all the time, for example. I value the ability to eat and drink at my desk, one reason why I love WFH. The distraction of wearing a mask would be such that I couldn’t concentrate on working at least not as well as at home, it’d be on a par with noise. I’d be fine wearing a mask during my commute if necessary. Currently it’s not even recommended never mind mandated here, and I’m not comfortable with the idea of using public transit, I’m honestly more worried about catching it myself than potentially making others sick. So cloth masks would only work if everybody was wearing them to protect others.

  20. remizidae*

    You can always ask about their flexibility on working from home during the interview process. I wouldn’t let the commute alone scare you off from even applying–after all, if the job is good enough, you’d be willing to move, right?

  21. Jennifer*

    I’m facing a similar situation just because job interviews are hard to come by now and the few places that have called me back are farther away than I would like. I’ve just decided to cross that bridge when I come to it. I haven’t gotten an offer yet but if I do, I’ll weigh my options and decide. As of now, both places have employees working from home 100%.

  22. MicroManagered*

    OP I think you should assume the job will eventually become in-person at some point and factor the availability of jobs in your area in your calculation.

    In other words, no, don’t take a job you would be unwilling to commute to in hopes that you will never *have* to commute there, but do think about whether the economy has affected your field enough that you need to rethink that hard-no on a commute longer than 40 minutes.

    (FWIW I live in a large metropolitan area with lots of coworkers who commute 40-60 minutes each way and it’s just their reality.)

  23. Quill*

    Hi OP! I’m being sent back into the office on a staggered rotation and otherwise working from home, and for what it’s worth I don’t think that state of affairs is going to last through all of August. Expect no company to know exactly what they’re going to do going forward before there is a vaccine.

    And if you’re in the US, don’t expect there to be a nationwide consensus about the new normal for a while after that.

    1. Cass*

      “And if you’re in the US, don’t expect there to be a nationwide consensus about the new normal for a while after that.”

      Oh man, so much this. I live in a state where you could potentially go out in public and forget for a minute that there is in fact a global pandemic. So, depending on where you live could at least inform your thinking on how to structure your job search.

    2. JSPA*

      We’re already well on the way to a second peak, or still ramping up to the top of the first peak, in several states, though.

      Check out Arizona, for example (I’ll leave the google-fu to you). They’ve been “open” for a month, and are close to the trigger point for cutting off elective surgeries again (trigger defined by hospital beds, ICU beds and PPE supplies).

      With some states ready to set up field hospitals in the parks and civic buildings (yes, we’re re-running the same film, in new locations) with luck some employers will rethink their blithe push to get everyone back in the office.

  24. RussianInTexas*

    I disagree with Alison, unless you are special someone the company desperately needs, why would they bother asking to explain, vs just throwing your resume out? They probably have 20 other applicants behind you.

  25. Sleepy*

    Where I live, getting a 20-min commute would be highly unrealistic. In other areas, it would be on the long side. If you live in a major metropolitan areas, even a 40 min or less commute metric would be very limiting. It really depends on OP’s desperation for a job whether this is something they should stick to.

    I will say that when you have a long commute, getting WFH even 2-3 days per week can make a huge difference in how tolerable it is, and I think that is a more realistic ask of a new employer than 100% WFH.

    1. fhqwhgads*

      Yeah, plus the time of a commute from place to place will change, even if the locations don’t. I’ve been full time WFH for 10 years, but my previous job, when I started the commute was 25 minutes. By the time I left five years later, I was lucky if I made it in 45 minutes. Same start and end point, but traffic had increased that much.

  26. MissGirl*

    This is very applicable to me. This morning a recruiter at my former company reached out to me about a very interesting position. Usually, I’d say no because the reason I left was the crappy commute. But part of me wonders if COVID will finally push them into a better WFM situation. They’re a large healthcare entity so I wonder if they’re more likely.

  27. CheeryO*

    I wouldn’t apply to a job that you aren’t willing to commute to. I know too many people who are already back at work, even though they were working from home effectively. I work for state government in a state that is re-opening slowly and generally handling things very well, and even I am going to be expected to come in one day per week fairly soon. The butts in (visible) seats mentality runs deep.

  28. Kiki*

    If I were you, I’d ask myself if I would be willing to make the commute for some of these jobs a couple days a week. So, for example, maybe you’re not willing to do more than 40 minutes every day, but would you be willing to commute an hour two times a week and work from home the other days? If so, I’d definitely still apply and make that apparent in your cover letter. That way companies can let you know right from the jump whether or not that would be possible for them. I do think a lot more companies have gotten comfortable with remote work in the last few months, so there’s flexibility where there previously wasn’t any

  29. CM*

    OP, maybe consider putting WFH requirements in your cover letter — you could say you’re being upfront and are interested in this job if you would be able to primarily work from home / at least 60% of the time / or whatever your dealbreaker amount is.

  30. tryingToCode*

    I’m in a similar boat, OP, but I’ve been sticking to assuming nothing until the world shakes out the new normal.

    It’s especially rough when recruiters on LinkedIn are like “The team’s been loving working remotely for Covid — would you accept if they let you work remotely 3 days a week.” Like, okay, but that doesn’t help my transit needs 2 days a week and guarantees nothing, especially since this is the only taste they’ve ever had for having a remote worker.

  31. just a small town girl*

    I definitely want to agree with this. Four years at my job and all messaging said that it was indefinite but we would return to the office soon, some people were allowed up for alternating days if they wanted to, but we were reminded repeatedly that it was indefinite and we believed it because there had been genuine concern for employee wellbeing.

    Then we got notice one week before that all support staff had to return to the office on June 1 and everyone else two days a week. They had flimsy procedures in place and it was clearly not well thought out; there is still some debate as to what changed and why, since the rest of our industry is really WFH until fall at least, and some elements until 2021. So take nothing for granted, because it can change on a whim.

  32. Bob*

    If you rent then moving is a realistic option. If you own then its trickier.
    In the end you need an income so you need to apply even if the commute is a headache (and i say this having experienced hellish hour long one way commutes).
    Also if you get a job that has a crummy commute your not stuck there forever unlike Homer Simpson and the nuclear plant.
    You can look for a closer to home job while your working at the crummy commute job.

  33. Clementine*

    If this job is in a tech company on the West Coast, then almost every company I have heard of is saying something like it will be optional to return to the office. If so, go ahead and apply.

    For other jobs in other places, I’d still suggest to apply. You can work out the commute details later if you get an offer. It’s quite possible that by the time you get an offer, the pandemic will have worsened, as it is in many places right now.

  34. Cat*

    Weighing in as someone who is currently hiring. I suggest you make sure when you are applying that you are applying to places that you could reasonably commute to (even if not from your POV but in general) or say they will stay remote. About 60% of my applicants are living in places that mean they would never be able to come into the office (other countries, other provinces) and I am at the point that I am just annoyed with sifting through so many resumes for people who are not eligible specifically for this reason, and to be clear, our job ad specifically says that it will eventually return to being in office. Also, keep in mind that if you are on other side of the country – someone couldn’t be expected to successfully train you if you have a major time difference if they don’t have a presence in your time zone (something you may be able to figure out from their website). Just some thoughts. Best of luck in your search!
    I will note that this is for a 6 month contract, which probably doesn’t help my feelings about the unlikeliness that 4 months in someone is not going to (or maybe not even be able to) move here to go to the office for the last two months of the contract.

    1. OP*

      So this has actually made something occur to me that didn’t before – in cases where I’d be competing against people who’d have to relocate for the job (under normal circumstances), I feel like I may now have more of an advantage being a local candidate because I’m more of a sure thing in terms of being able to pivot quickly from WFH to on-site work.

      1. Cat*

        Hi OP – sorry for my late reply! Yes, you are correct, from my perspective anyway, I am definitely looking for someone who can do this and it’s part of what I’m looking at when I am choosing who to interview. I know first hand how hard moving is right now too (three co-workers have moved since Covid – two within our city and one across provinces and it’s been a nightmare!) so it’s something I’m considering quite heavily.

  35. Shortstuff*

    Since you’re not working right now, I’d say you need to compare this against the actual alternatives. If it doesn’t work out due to a return to offices, is that likely to mean that freelancing opportunities will be increasing as well? Can you take a job, bow out if it doesn’t suit or just look for another one without affecting your reputation? I probably wouldn’t actively apply for a job that had an impossible commute unless I was prepared to move home, but would definitely consider one that wasn’t ideal and try to establish in interview etc what the scope is for working from home, or whatever else might make the location more bearable.

  36. OP*

    Thanks Alison and everyone for your input! I feel more confident applying to these jobs, where the commute is certainly less than desirable but not impossible, with the goal of discussing in the interview process what their projections are about continued WFH and what might be possible for me in terms of a partial WFH schedule as things go back to “normal” in order to mitigate the commute issue. As I mentioned above, I don’t necessarily have to *take* a job where I wouldn’t want the commute, but it doesn’t hurt to apply and then feel them out about it.

  37. Bus Commuter in Canada*

    I disagree respectfully with Alison. I would apply for jobs now, if they seem interesting. It’s worth starting off with remote work, and hoping that it will remain. Some workplaces are only allowing 50% of their employees in the office at any one time, so long term remote work could be possible. Furthermore, since the OP is a public-transit commuter but potentially willing to move (maybe a renter rather than an owner of accommodations), it doesn’t hurt to feel them out.

  38. S*

    I would have a higher bar for jobs further away (but still feasible to commute to), and if you get called for an interview ask about their covid response and expected future WFH policies before taking the interview.

Comments are closed.