The COVID-19 pandemic turned the working world upside down, forcing companies to rapidly adopt remote and hybrid work models. Now, over two years later, leaders face a new challenge: getting employees to come back to the office – and a bad return to office means a great deal of stress and damage to a company’s bottom line, as I tell my clients when helping them figure out their hybrid work policies.
A new report commissioned by Wayleadr, a leading arrival technology company, reveals that office occupancy only increased by 4% from 2021 to 2022. This surprisingly small uptick signals that many employees remain reluctant to return to pre-pandemic in-office norms. So how can organizations bring people back? The secret lies in minimizing one major pain point: the commute.
Minimizing the Pains of Commuting
“Across the 100,000 spaces we surveyed, only 1% are currently set up for EV charging,” says Wayleadr’s CEO Garret Flower, whom I interviewed about this topic. With electric vehicle purchases skyrocketing, this infrastructure gap is a ticking time bomb.
However, the more immediate commute concern is sheer travel time. Wayleadr’s data shows that the average worker spends over 10% of their working hours commuting. From the employer perspective, this is wasted productivity. From the employee standpoint, it’s unpaid labor spent stressed out in traffic.
The commute constitutes a massive block of unpaid, unproductive time outside of workers’ control. This breeds resentment towards rigid office policies demanding set in-office days. When people feel their time is wasted commuting to sit in sterile cubicles and do individual work easily accomplished at home, office mandates become demotivating rather than motivating.
However, thoughtfully minimizing commute time flips this script. According to Flower, optimized arrival using Wayleadr’s app saves some clients over 3 days of productivity per employee annually. By showing real-time parking availability, the app allows workers to bypass fully occupied lots and drive straight to open spots. For a 500-person company, this could recapture over 1500 days yearly – the equivalent of 7 employee years!
Savings also come from reduced overlapping services. Flower shares how occupancy insights uncovered low late-day attendance on formerly busy days. Companies scaled back overly broad food and transit contracts to match new attendance patterns. It’s a real-world example of how arrival optimization provides positive ROI extending far beyond the commute itself.
Most importantly, commute-focused flexibility addresses people’s strongest reluctance: the dreaded return to crammed highways and crowded trains. Flower notes that a guaranteed reserved parking spot, desk or office cuts an average of 8 minutes per trip. Shorter, seamless commutes give employees back a sense of control over their time. In this light, office mandates become inviting rather than irritating.
Purposefully Structure Hybrid Work to Minimize Commuting
However, to reap these benefits, leaders must purposefully structure hybrid policies around commute minimization. This means anchoring team collaboration days mid-week, when traffic is lighter. Monday and Friday weekly work-from-home days also alleviate stressful rush hour dashes.
Within in-office days, stagger schedules to avoid peak congestion. Wayleadr’s data shows up to 90-95% occupancy between 8am and 1pm, with workers avoiding the evening rush home. Flow arrivals by embracing policies like required core collaboration hours from 10am to 3pm, with flexible start and end times.
Commute reduction also provides cost savings if applied to real estate. For example, Elon Musk closed multiple Twitter offices despite mandating return to office. Why? Because the company’s financial position justified workplace cost cutting. So for struggling companies, identifying opportunities to consolidate offices near areas with lighter traffic and abundant transit access is an impactful strategy.
At individual and organizational levels, few things breed more negativity towards the office than commute stress. “When you put Wayleader in place and allow flexible policy and adopt a flexible approach, we’re seeing employees float back to the office, as long as they can keep flexibility during the week,” Flower observes. The data shows it’s true – a smoother, tightly choreographed commute makes hub offices hubs again.
Of course, some teams will keep working remotely forever. However, for companies that value in-person collaboration, making arrival pleasantly invisible is the key to filling seats. Wayleadr’s insights guide leaders to uncover hidden opportunities through arrival optimization. Treat the commute as the gift of regained productivity and positivity it truly is. Give employees back their precious time, and the office will once again become an engaging workplace. Where workers look forward to coming together, teams thrive. And where teams thrive, organizations succeed.
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Image credit: Anna Shvets/Pexels
Originally published in Disaster Avoidance Experts on May 31, 2023
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky was lauded as “Office Whisperer” and “Hybrid Expert” by The New York Times for helping leaders use hybrid work to improve retention and productivity while cutting costs. He serves as the CEO of the boutique future-of-work consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts. Dr. Gleb wrote the first book on returning to the office and leading hybrid teams after the pandemic, his best-seller Returning to the Office and Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Manual on Benchmarking to Best Practices for Competitive Advantage (Intentional Insights, 2021). He authored seven books in total, and is best know for his global bestseller, Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters (Career Press, 2019). His cutting-edge thought leadership was featured in over 650 articles and 550 interviews in Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, USA Today, CBS News, Fox News, Time, Business Insider, Fortune, and elsewhere. His writing was translated into Chinese, Korean, German, Russian, Polish, Spanish, French, and other languages. His expertise comes from over 20 years of consulting, coaching, and speaking and training for Fortune 500 companies from Aflac to Xerox. It also comes from over 15 years in academia as a behavioral scientist, with 8 years as a lecturer at UNC-Chapel Hill and 7 years as a professor at Ohio State. A proud Ukrainian American, Dr. Gleb lives in Columbus, Ohio. In his free time, he makes sure to spend abundant quality time with his wife to avoid his personal life turning into a disaster. Contact him at Gleb[at]DisasterAvoidanceExperts[dot]com, follow him on LinkedIn @dr-gleb-tsipursky, Twitter @gleb_tsipursky, Instagram @dr_gleb_tsipursky, Facebook @DrGlebTsipursky, Medium @dr_gleb_tsipursky, YouTube, and RSS, and get a free copy of the Assessment on Dangerous Judgment Errors in the Workplace by signing up for the free Wise Decision Maker Course at https://disasteravoidanceexperts.com/newsletter/.