Why do Croydonians still commute to work?


By - Tuesday 6th February, 2018

Cast off the chains of commuting and work from London’s most exciting borough


Working remotely from Crushed Bean coffee shop. More people should do this.
Photo author’s own.

Every year, 22 million people enter and exit the East Croydon station (that’s over 70,000 daily) and this number is set to grow as more and more people make the welcome decision to move to London’s most exciting borough. As the trend continues, perhaps it’s time for Croydonians to consider alternatives: namely, work locally or work remotely.

In 1975, when personal computers were little more than glorified calculators for geeks and the internet was an obscure project being developed by the United States government, Norman Macrae, a noted journalist for The Economist, who earned a reputation for clairvoyant prophesies, made a radical prediction about how information technology would soon transform our lives.

Macrae foretold the exact path and timeline that computers would take over the business world and then become a fixture of every American (and, by extension, Croydon) home. But he didn’t stop there. The spread of this machine, he argued, would fundamentally change the economics of how most of us work. Once workers could communicate with their colleagues through instant messages and video chat, he reasoned, there would be little coherent purpose to trudge long distances to work side by side in centrally located office spaces. As companies recognised how much cheaper remote employees would be, the computer would, in effect, kill the office — and with that, our whole way of living would change.

Technology hasn’t replace the office – just kept us tethered to it when we’re not there

Unfortunately, Macrae’s powers of prediction weren’t infallible: fast forward forty years and Croydon’s suburban breadwinners still clog the trainlines in a daily trek to central London to make money. Far from the re-ruralisation that Macrae predicted, the metropolis of the computer age has become an even stronger magnet for the physical bodies of human beings. Computers and smartphones haven’t replaced the office — they’ve just kept us tethered to it when we’re not there. This has to change.

Working from home/remotely, doesn’t literally have to mean from home. There are lots of places around Croydon that lend themselves well to those that are fortunate enough to have a ‘laptop lifestyle’. My new favourite spot in Croydon is Crushed Bean on the High Street. However, there are a litany of other coffee shops such as Byte CaféSmoothbean, Matthews Yard, and Yeha Noha around Croydon with rock-solid wifi that you can use as your ‘office away from the office’.

We hate commuting – so why do we still do it?

As Croydon’s reputation as a Tech City grows, so, too, do the amount of workspaces in the area. Places like TMRW, the Sussex Innovation Centre, and the Business Xchange Hub all offer hotdesking options where you can drop in and grab an inexpensive desk amongst other professionals who are working remotely. Or, why not make Croydon’s libraries relevant again and set up shop there with your laptop?

There are many reasons to believe that commuting is stupid. It wastes resources. It’s bad for the environment. It’s unproductive time that we’re not paid for. It costs us money. It’s stressful. It’s associated with higher rates of depression, obesity, cardiovascular disease, divorce and a whole host of other maladies. We report that we hate it more than anything else in our routines and that we’re happier when we get to more regularly work from home. Why, then, do Croydonians still commute to work?

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose is a committed Christian who has lived in the Croydon area for nearly twenty years. He is an active participant in his local community, serving at Grace Vineyard Church and organising Purley Breakfast Club, and was ranked "Croydon's 37th most powerful person" by the Croydon Advertiser (much to his amusement). He is the Head of Content at marketing technology company Idio, the founder of the Croydon Tech City movement, a LinkedIn coach, and creator of Croydon's first fashion label, Croydon Vs The World. Working on Instagram training and a Linkedin lead generation service. Views are his own, but it would be best for all concerned if you shared them. Please send your fanmail to: jonnyrose1 (at) gmail (dot) com

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  • http://neil.spellings.net Neil Spellings

    It’s quite an easy question to answer: employers still like you at a desk, under their watchful eye, for the majority of the time.

    Whilst flexible working is becoming easier and more prevalent, HR policies and managers attitudes and expectations still lag behind the technology.

    So whilst I can easily do my job sitting in my office at home, or in a coffee shop in Croydon, I’m still expected to rock up 3-4 days a week to the clients office in The City, joining the many thousands doing exactly the same on the daily commute.

    Because companies are starting to realise the cost savings they can achieve by not providing one desk per person in expensive central London offices (my current client has 1.5 people per desk) these attitudes to flexible work arrangements will no doubt change over time, but it’s going to take several generations for it to become the norm rather than the exception.

    Unless you’re lucky to work for one of the companies local to Croydon, travelling into the big smoke is going to remain a reality for the majority of Croydonites for many years to come.

  • Elizabeth

    Why not make libraries relevant again…?
    Libraries ARE relevant, Jonny!
    *tut*
    It is often extremely difficult to get a space to study in Croydon Central Library due to demand and finding free workspace with access to a powerpoint is even more difficult.

    • Mark Johnson

      And as a Librarian I can’t work from home. I need to be in the Library I’m managing. There will be many jobs that can’t be done from a desk away from the ‘office’.

  • Andrew Dickinson

    Practical point if I may. You got yourself all set up and working away and then you need to go to the loo or want another expensive latte. What happens then? Do you trust it to luck that when you come back your £1750 Macbook air will still be there or even your biro? I wouldn’t leave my laptop in the library whilst I travel down the escalator to use the loos down by the archives because there’s a very good chance that it won’t be there when I come back. There was a time when you could lock the machine with a cable to a table leg but not all tables have legs, How do you get around this issue Jonny?

  • Jeannegenius

    A bit annoying too in cafés when one worker sits all day at a table for four with one cup of coffee and the laptop and others want to sit down for lunch

  • AHM

    Commuting is a necessity for most of us – there are industries that don’t exist in Croydon, that don’t lend themselves to remote working and they simply never will.

    On another note, working in a coffee shop, when you’re not the barista, is awful. I did it a couple of times. If you have any sense of awareness, you quickly realise that everyone thinks you’re a tosser and that none of the chairs and surfaces are ergonomically designed for use as a desk!

  • Steve Thompson

    This is living in dreamland.
    I used to work for one of the world’s largest banks and we were allowed to work from home to fit in with family/childcare/hospital appointments etc. However owing to the sensitive nature of the information we dealt with, it was strictly forbidden to work from cafes etc., where the connection may not be secure and any phone conversations could be overheard (apart from being annoying to other customers). I also am very uncomfortable about hogging a table in a cafe longer than I require, when other people want to sit down to drink and eat.
    How can people such as hospital doctors, nurses, care workers, librarians, bank customer services people etc. work from home? Like it or not, we still have the City of London and Canary Wharf as our main financial centres, and many major hospitals are based in central London, and those working there will need to commute at least for a few days each week.
    Please be realistic and appreciate that not everyone works in a tech start-up in their garage.
    Of course, over future generations things will change drastically, but we cannot just up sticks and change our jobs to avoid commuting. What we can do is look at how we can make commuting less stressful and more environmentally friendly.

  • Ian Marvin

    I’d be curious to know how many people really can work from home. Croydon has many residents on minimum wage, cleaners and hospitality workers for example. Many people would like to avoid both the stress of commuting as well as the cost. Personally I feel we need to be smarter about matching housing and employment in Croydon, we are big enough as a borough to do a better job of this.

  • Mario Trabucco della Torretta

    It would have been nice indeed if the author of the article had really explored the reasons why most of us keep enduring the pain of commuting to work. He has chosen instead the path of showing reasons why we should’t do it, with results that can quite logically be contested. Maybe a fortcoming article that really answers the question in the title will be more informative for both himself and the readers. And maybe I just put it there- another series of articles will be produced, by the same author, exploring the Croydon alternatives to a job in central London, industry by industry.