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Quality of life isn't just about how often you look at your screen.

House prices in the world’s biggest cities have pushed people to the affordable outskirts, so travel times to the office of an hour or more are the norm.

For megacity workers, the commute is just as likely to contribute to burnout. For them, checking work emails might actually be a distracting relief.

How's your commute?

According to Numbeo, a user-generated database about cities and countries globally, the average rush hour commute by train or metro to work in London is just under one hour. In contrast, Edinburgh commuters take just a third of that time. Travelling by bus, bike or on foot is similarly shorter.

There's no law that says you have to live close to where you work, but there are other options. The trick is to find a city with the right mix of talent, culture, entrepreneurial flare. And affordable housing stock.

The trick is to find a city with the right mix of talent, culture, entrepreneurial flare. And affordable housing stock.

New Zealand, anyone?

For gaming company Rocketwerkz, Dunedin fits the bill. It's just a shame that it's on the South Island of New Zealand!

Looking for somewhere closer to home? There's plenty to choose from in the UK: see the burgeoning powerhouse of Manchester, or its neighbour Leeds. Or try the financial clout and creative flair of Glasgow.

Real live quality of life comparisons

Using the Numbeo website, you can do your own quality of life calculations.

Try it here now

What about Edinburgh? It recently won an award for being the most entrepreneurial city in the UK and is now home to many of Scotland's leading tech start-ups. That's where we spoke to a few companies to see how they manage quality of life for their people.

Is it all about the commute?

Stuart Lunn, founder and CEO of LendingCrowd, a peer-to-peer lending start-up, would argue that it is. He worked for 11 years in London before transferring to Edinburgh. When it came to setting up his business, he didn't see the need to go back to the commuter life. Instead of travelling for up to 90 minutes each day, he now walks to work in 15. That means more time to be more effective. And still have some energy left for family time.

Stuart prefers the pace of life in Edinburgh, a very different work/life balance from London. Here, there’s more emphasis on having a life outside of work, and less evidence of an aggressive, sales driven, time-bound approach to work.

That brings its own problems for an early-stage company. “Firstly, there’s no work/life balance in a start-up,” says Stuart. “You simply can’t survive on a nine to five mentality, but people know that when they join.”

Edinburgh lets you create a company that isn’t based on the work-all-hours mentality.

Stuart Lunn, CEO LendingCrowd

Still, Stuart has managed to find a way to build a company that doesn’t run its people ragged.

"Edinburgh lets you create a company that isn’t based on the work-all-hours mentality,” he says. “We still get stuff done and delivered on time – and we motivate people with share options and the satisfaction of doing well, rather than the stick of driving them harder."

Another way: six productive hours

You can shorten the commute, but what about improving efficiency once your people reach their desks?

Being busy is one thing, but being effective is something else entirely, according to Steve Tigar, CEO of start-up Money Dashboard. He implemented the latest research into working patterns for his team.

Based on the idea that the human brain can manage six productive hours, he’s chunked the working day for his software engineers into two uninterrupted three-hour blocks. That gives them space to code without distraction. Plus time either side for the other necessary faff of a typical working day.

You can shorten the commute, but what about improving efficiency once your people reach their desks?

Or just four productive days?

Training management tech company Administrate moved to a four-day, 32-hour working week in 2015. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, says operations manager Jen Anderson.

“It’s about being the ultimate human organisation and a company that people want to work for.” says Jen. The company’s thought about what it wants to be to people, and what to offer them. As it enters a period of growth, these principles will lay the foundations for a culture that can scale.

The four-day week helps them focus on what needs to get done, and leaves the fifth day free. Employees are encouraged to share what they choose to do with the time. There’s no obligation, but many volunteer, go on courses, or make time for the family. 

Sometimes it’s just about getting life admin done. What about work emails? “I do sometimes check them over the weekend,” says Jen, “but that’s my choice – not a company expectation.”

Don't get distracted by technology

It seems clear the physical reality of where you work and how you work has a deep effect on quality of life.

Technology has led to more flexible working patterns. It’s put the office in our pockets, wherever we go. Focusing on emails and a right to disconnect might be a start, but for many, emails are a necessary hassle. They’re not going away any time soon. 

Focus instead on questioning traditional ways of working. Find a way to avoid the draining commute. The reward? A more engaged, effective team. And that’s all good. For people. And companies.

Want to know more about quality of life in Scotland?

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