As employers build their return-to-workplace strategies, they’re quickly realizing that a safe return-to-workplace plan is only as safe as their commute plan. Amidst all the planning, the impact of COVID-19 on various transportation modes is raising new safety and equity challenges regarding the employee commute:
- Less than 30% of the U.S. workforce can successfully work remotely
- The average commute distance is too far for many to bike or walk.
- One-third of Americans don’t have access to a car (and car ownership costing an average of $8,500 per year may be an additional barrier).
- There are systemic racial disparities that directly impact access to reliable, affordable, and safe commute options across the country.
Now more than ever, employers have the responsibility to provide equitable and accessible commute options that empower employee choice.
Defining safety in relation to the commute
A safe commute is a necessity for the well-being of your individual employees and your organization as a whole. When we talk about safety today, we’re no longer just discussing being safe from physical harm. Safety has two major components, and leaders need to solve for both as equally important parts of the employee experience.
- Physical safety: Answers the question “Will I ‘be’ safe?” These are the investments we make to reduce the likelihood of our employees getting sick or infecting others.
- Mental well-being: Answers the question “Will I ‘feel’ safe?” These are the investments we make to give employees confidence they can return to the workplace and be safe.
Defining equity in relation to the commute
At Scoop, we believe equity refers to the fairness of the commute experience in terms of access to modes and their affordability. In today’s landscape, commute equity is incredibly nuanced and must take into consideration individual challenges and experiences along with systemic racial, financial, and geographic discrepancies and inequities within the transportation landscape.
Commute equity relates to:
- Access: Between disparities in commute length, household income decreases due to COVID-related layoffs, family obligations, varying levels of health risks, lack of access to public transportation (as this Brookings report discusses), high cost of car ownership, and beyond, there are countless factors that contribute to an individual’s access to reliable transportation. Many of these factors are out of the employee’s control, which is why employers must take the responsibility to champion commute equity for their people. No employee should have to make trade-offs of their personal safety and mental well-being to get to your workplace. In short, commute equity is about providing access to commute options that are safe and convenient for everyone.
- Affordability: From a COVID-19 risk perspective, many workers will view driving alone as the safest and most reliable commute option as they embark on their return to the workplace. However, it’s important to remember that not all commuters have the ability to drive, as one-third of Americans do not have reliable access to a private vehicle, and the financial burden of vehicle ownership may be a barrier to many.
In terms of commuting, equity and safety pose the question: Can organizations truly tell every employee that there is a safe, reliable, and convenient way available for them to get to and from the workplace?
At the end of the day, your employees’ commute mode (and the myriad of individual and systemic factors that play into their access to reliable transportation) should not be a barrier to whether or not they can show up to work.
Employers today have the opportunity to help solve commute inequities by providing a portfolio of transportation options that can empower individuals to choose solutions that work for their needs and circumstances.
This post discusses content from the June 12, 2020 webinar Today’s HR imperative: A safe and equitable employee commute. This webinar was part three of three of the Future of the American Commute webinar series hosted by Scoop. You can view the on-demand webinar here.