What every employer needs to understand about the future of the American commute

COVID-19 has transformed almost every aspect of daily life. Instead of commuting, many of us have spent the past months learning how to work virtually and stay connected.

With each passing week, the United States is getting closer to reopening. Many states have started to relax restrictions, and employers are hard at work thinking through their “return to workplace” plans.

When it comes to planning, employers tend to start by thinking about their space:

  • What safety investments do I need to make?
  • How do I redesign the workplace to minimize density?
  • What percentage of my employees will I bring back, and when?

On the other hand, employees tend to start by thinking about their commute:

  • How am I going to get to work safely? Is my old mode still available and reliable?
  • If I need to change, is my new commute going to be more expensive?
  • If I need to change, is my new commute going to be more time consuming?
  • Is my employer going to help me figure this out?

Everyone—employers and employees alike—is thinking about safety first.

Employers have to realize that risk and safety concerns don’t start when employees enter the workplace. Risk begins when employees walk out of their homes.

That’s a totally different paradigm from how most companies are used to operating! Here are three critical takeaways that Scoop will explore over the coming weeks.

1. Safety is a “home to workplace” issue.

Every employer in the country is thinking about the return to workplace and how to deliver a safe experience. The commute bookends the workday. It’s what your employees are bringing into the workplace, and it’s what your employees are bringing home to their families.

Every return to workplace plan has to include a commute plan. If you don’t, you risk meaningful exposure to your employees that ultimately might impact business continuity and performance.

2. If you want employees in the workplace, you have to invest to get them there safely.

Employees have a right to a safe workplace. To have a safe workplace, employers have to ensure employees can get to work safely.

For many companies, the commute historically is the employee’s issue. Now that an unsafe commute creates a company risk, the commute is a company issue.

In transportation, we used to champion density as a good thing. Denser transportation leads to less congestion, better air quality, and more liveable cities.

Density now poses a risk to safety. That’s a problem for employers:

Employers can’t assume all employees can drive alone. Plus, the long term impact of a mass shift to driving alone on traffic, parking, and air quality is staggering.

Employers are going to have to invest in commute offerings to solve that challenge. Active mode programs (e.g. bikes, scooters) and low density mode programs (e.g. carpool, vanpool) are going to become must-have offerings.

3. These are uncertain times. Your transportation cost structure should reflect that.

Employers are beginning to coalesce around phased return to workplace plans, but no one knows exactly how many employees are going to be back in office when. We may want to speed up return to workplace, or we may need to take a step back if there is a COVID-19 resurgence.

In times of economic stress, CFOs typically push to reduce or eliminate fixed costs in favor of variable or usage based programs. The same playbook will apply to commute investments.

Employers should prioritize:

  • Variable or usage-based contracts over fixed cost contracts
  • Short term duration over long term duration
  • Offerings that can scale up or scale down flexibly to reflect realities on the ground  

So, where do we go from here?

Over the next few weeks, Scoop will be releasing a series of content and webinars covering:

  • How major employers are thinking about the return to workplace
  • Research and findings on how commuters are thinking about return to workplace
  • Commuter perception of safety of different commute modes
  • Strategies for investing in the commute
  • Insights across industries, employers, and leaders as they prepare their organizations for the future of the American commute

For more information:

Rob Sadow

Rob Sadow is Co-Founder and CEO of Scoop. He has spoken on the topics of new and shared mobility in Fortune, Bloomberg, and at industry, academic, and investor conferences across the country. In his spare time, you can find him devouring just about any sport, especially if it’s a team from Atlanta.