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The Death of the Commute: How Far is Too Far in 2023?

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The Death of the Commute: How Far is Too Far in 2023?

It’s no secret that since 2020, the COVID pandemic radically accelerated the adoption of home working in major economies. The UK is no exception.

But has this new reality actually changed the way people think about commuting? And if so, what should employers do differently for access to the country’s best talent?

We asked more than 2,000 people to find out, comparing our findings with the research we did nearly 10 years ago in 2014, when 86% of the UK population worked from the office five days a week. From that data, we consider whether changing attitudes about the commute could be putting some businesses at a disadvantage, and what employers can do to make sure they have access to the best talent pools in the post-commuting era.

How far are people willing to commute in 2023?

In 2014, 72% of respondents were willing to commute more than 20 miles to work. 

In 2023, that dropped to just 26%.

Crucially, only 1 in 100 of 2014 respondents said they’d only be willing to travel 10 miles or less for their commute. This has rocketed up to more than a third (34%) of people in 2023.

On the other end of the spectrum, more than 1 in 6 people (16%) were willing to commute over 40 miles to work in 2014, but in 2023 it was ten times less at just 1 in 60 (1.5%).

Of our 2023 respondents, the age group least likely to be willing to travel more than 40 miles for work were 25 to 35-year-olds. Less than 1 in 100 (0.6%) said they’d be willing to commute this far.

Over-55s, on the other hand, were the most likely to travel more than 40 miles, with a third (33%) saying they’d be prepared for the commute for the right role.

Rachel Wheeler, Executive Search Director at Forward Role said: “There’s always a personal element in how far someone might be willing to commute. That elasticity has obviously shifted in the last decade, particularly those who have young children. And with the average age for UK parents to have their first child now at 30 years old, we’re seeing that correlate with 25 to 35-year-olds.”

“Hybrid working challenges the myth that you need to be willing to travel far to put bread on the table. In reality, many of the best jobs are now accessible for remote workers, meaning that those in their late twenties and early thirties feel there’s less risk in sticking close to home. That way, they can enjoy spending time with their families and be present for school and nursery runs.”

“On the other hand, older respondents are more likely to be well-established in their careers and at the peak of their earnings potential. Those longer commutes may be easier to justify than they might be for younger workers who are on entry-level wages.”

While 1 in 3 (33%) women said they’d be willing to commute more than 20 miles, only 1 in 5 (20%) of men said the same. Women were also 65% more likely to be willing to commute long distances.

Rachel Wheeler, Executive Search Director at Forward Role said: “It’s interesting that this data challenges the assumed narrative that women demand flexibility more than men.” 

“Our findings show that women were 45% more likely than men to be willing to travel up to 30 miles, and more than twice as likely (110%) to consider travelling more than 30 miles to a job. It’s possible that women are prepared to make greater sacrifices in order to get opportunities for career progression or good salaries, since many women still feel childcare is affecting their career progression.”

How long does your current commute take you?

Respondents in 2023 are more likely to endure commutes of between 30 and 60 minutes, but less likely to commute longer than this than they were in 2014

Hybrid working in 2023 gives people the option to choose jobs that are a little further away — usually in cities for a higher salary — since they’ll only be making that journey once or twice a week, rather than everyday pre-COVID. Journeys over 60 minutes, however, are difficult to justify in the age of remote working. 

“It’s fascinating to see that rather than commuting distances simply dropping down the minimum, they’re actually landing around the middle in 2023,” says Brian Johnson, Managing Director at Forward Role. “This implies that those who work in roles that are office-based are now likely to live further away from the office than they would be pre-pandemic, which makes sense: those long journeys are easier to swallow if you’re only making them a couple of times a week.” 

“On the other end, those extreme commuters driving more than an hour to work are likely to have seen the light and switched, either to a fully remote version of their old role or to a new employer that offers more flexibility.”

Yorkshire and The Humber have the shortest average commute — 44.83% travel less than 10 miles

Those in the South West are most likely to endure an extreme commute, with 1 in 13 (7.4%) travelling more than 40 miles for work.

On the other end of the scale was the North West, where residents were 15 times less likely to endure a long commute; less than 1 in 200 (0.45%) said they travelled more than 40 miles to work. Unlike the South West, the North West has a plenitude of urban economic hubs where job opportunities are rife: Manchester and Liverpool (two of the UK’s ten biggest cities by population) are just 30 miles from one another.

Forward Role’s Brian Johnson comments: “The South West is a bit of an anomaly when it comes to the commuting revolution. With a relatively sparse urban population, office workers are going to great lengths to reach their place of work, while those in London, the South East and the North West enjoy much shorter commutes.”

“It’s no surprise then that those in the South West were more than twice as likely than Londoners to want to work fully remotely (28% of South Westerners vs just 12% of Londoners).”

“For those working in more rural regions, the prospect of remote working is likely to be even more appealing, especially if it provides access to those high-salaried roles historically only afforded to city-dwellers.”

How often are people working from home?

In 2014, less than a third (28%) of employers offered home working options to their staff.

Now in 2023, though, more than 4 in 5 (79%) of respondents are working from home at least once a week, with 1 in 20 (5%) working completely remotely.

When asked how often they’d prefer to work from home, the most popular answer was “twice a week”, with a third of the votes (34%).

“It’s clear that employers have had to radically rethink their approaches to flexible working in light of the pandemic,” says Phill Stott, Group Director for Marketing & Digital at Forward Role.

“Less than 1 in 5 of our respondents were working exclusively onsite. In fact, nearly a third (31%) are spending more of their week working from home than in the office.” 

“This shift is having massive implications for employers who are trying to attract and retain the best talent: many high-skilled workers now expect only a part-time requirement to be in the office, and the prospect of returning to a 5-day commute could be a deal-breaker.”

“It’s therefore crucial that any business that can offer home-working options does so, and is prepared to offer at least two days per week at home.”

Do people feel pressured to work from the office in 2023?

While more than 80% of people work at least one day a week from home, two-thirds (66%) of our respondents said that they felt a pressure to work from the office more often than they currently do. 

Younger workers were far more likely to experience pressure to work more at the office than workers further on in their careers. Nearly 7 in 10 (69%) of 18 to 24-year-olds said their employers wanted them to work in the office more, while this figure dropped to just a third (35%) of Over 55s. 

“This is a really crucial insight into how employers perceive younger workers,” says Phill Stott, Group Director for Marketing & Digital at Forward Role. 

“Under 24s are usually just starting out in their chosen career, and may need more hands-on help or feedback with the tasks they’ve been assigned. The older workers get, the less training is necessary, and the more likely they are to be the managers in charge of making decisions about home-working requirements.”

“However, it should be noted that there’s a significant disparity between working trends: more than 8 in 10 (83%) of our under-24s are in hybrid-working roles (i.e. working at home at least once a week), whereas this was only true of 4 in 10 (38%) Over 55s.” 

“Those working fully remotely (a quarter of Over 55s) or fully on-site (37% of Over 55s) won’t feel those same pressures, so this is likely to have had a statistically significant effect on the outcome.”

Final thoughts

The pandemic has clearly had a lasting impact on the UK jobs market, putting flexibility and remote working right at the top of the list for both those established in the workforce and those entering it. Employers who can recognise the new landscape have a chance to capitalise on it — but only if they’re willing to compromise.

“The resounding message from the data is that being stuck in an office five days a week is simply an outdated mentality that few quality candidates will settle for,” says Brian Johnson, Managing Director at Forward Role. “In our recent salary survey, the biggest trend we saw from candidates was the desire for flexible working. The vast majority of candidates explicitly state the need for hybrid working with a lot of people also requesting remote working.”

“That means other businesses who have embraced flexible working have a better shot than ever at winning over top-quality talent without simply having to compete on salary alone.”

“These findings put innovative, agile young brands at a major advantage that wouldn’t have been possible ten years ago, which is really exciting.”


Forward Role surveyed 2,660 UK respondents from a mix of backgrounds, genders and ages. The survey included respondents from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. The survey was conducted via Involve throughout June 2023.