The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting social distancing has brought ambiguous timelines, ever-changing predictions, and a general feeling of not knowing what to expect about returning to “normal.” One thing we’re certain of, though, is that companies are using this time to take a step back, reassess their strategies, and begin to plan for the eventual transition back to the office.
Part of this process is acknowledging that our previous routines may need to change. Workforces will again need to prove adaptive, and employers will need to continue to demonstrate their willingness to be flexible in their efforts to support employees. One of the most tangible changes will be the way that we commute.
Corporate wellness programs often overlook the commute but now, more than ever, employers must use this time to create or strengthen existing corporate wellness programs with commuter benefits to demonstrate to employees that they recognize the shift back to commuting to and from the office may be a bit intimidating. Here are a few ideas to consider when thinking about how you can best support employees during their post-COVID commutes.
Public transit may seem intimidating
Even for veterans of commuting via public transportation, the return to regularly riding in crowded vehicles will be unnerving. And that’s totally understandable — after a public health crisis of this proportion, it’s going to take time for people to feel comfortable with these situations.
However, it is not going to be either practical or realistic for employees to start driving alone to work rather than taking public transportation. You won’t have budgeted for that amount of parking, and you’ve got commute trip reduction goals to hit. A reasonable middle ground you can try is introducing a carpooling program, or encouraging your employees to take advantage of one you already have.
This way, you’re minimizing the number of cars going back on the road while also making sure your employees feel comfortable. It also requires less investment on your end, since it’s easy for these employees to eventually make the switch back to their regular commute.
If you’re looking to make carpooling a more permanent part of your commute program, you could consider looking into a partner like Scoop to help match up your employees and really encourage those who normally drive alone to join in.
A potential permanent solution? Bikes
Depending on how far out your employees live from your office, you can push the ease of biking to work. Not only does it make your commute to work happier (which carries over into your attitude at work!), but it’s sustainable. It also, importantly, does not require coming into close contact with others.
If you really want to make bicycle commutes a lasting change for your employees, you’ll have to make sure it’s easy to adjust. That means helping them learn the best routes with the most bike lanes, offering classes, setting up a bike buddies system, or even offering free bikes. If they want to practice the route, now might be a great time — with fewer cars on the road, it’s way less intimidating to give it a shot. (Of course, take into account your local guidelines on shelter-at-home at this time. For many places, outside exercise is still allowed so long as you maintain social distance.)
It’s very likely that we’ll be heading back to work during the late spring or early summer, which makes it the perfect time to make bicycling seem like a great option. Hopefully, they’ll see the benefits and some will want to continue into the fall!
Lean into flexible work hours
We’ve all learned one thing pretty quickly: Yeah, that meeting could have been an email. But more than that, we’ve learned that it’s possible to get work done while not in the physical office. You may want to stagger the number of employees coming back to work at the same time, rather than bringing everyone all at once. This will allow for you to work out the kinks and see if there are any patterns, then adapt from there.
Additionally, you may want to consider offering employees the option to commute at non-rush hour times. Someone could work an adjusted schedule from 11 - 7 or from 7 - 3, which would account for public transit to be far less crowded. This should help those who still want to take their normal commute route feel more confident about doing so, while also decreasing the overall amount of time they spend commuting. This should help ease people back into a routine that involves coming to the office.
What if they can’t drive?
It’s possible some of your employees may not have access to a car, and therefore will have to go back to their regular public transit commute. You can still support them and make sure they feel comfortable by making sure they have access to real-time information about trains and buses in your area.
With real-time information, they’ll be able to know exactly when the train is coming, so they can time their trip most effectively and spend the least amount of time waiting on a crowded platform as possible. Depending on where you live, schedules also may have changed enough that previous routes might not be up and running on the same frequency, or at all. Real-time information will help make the transition back to a commute smooth.
With the CityMotion mobile experience, TransitScreen offers real-time information about all modes of transportation, not just trains and buses, wherever your employees are. We can even customize it to include your employer shuttle data as well as any supported bikeshare or scootershare programs. Whether it’s as our standalone app or as part of an integration into your existing app, let us know if we can help support your employees during this time.
Make sure they know you’re there for them
No matter what, you’re going to need to actively communicate with your employees what their commuting options are at this time, and how you’re going to be handling the move back to the office. Sending out just one Slack message isn’t going to do it — you’ll want to be consistent, persistent, and available for follow up questions! The more prepared you all are, the easier it’ll be for both you and your team.