In the opening sequence of the film Office Space, a frustrated cubicle-bound character sits in a traffic jam, looking out of his car window to see a senior with a walker is moving faster then he is. He then notices the cars in the lane next to him are flying by, so he moves lanes. But now that lane is at a standstill while cars in the lane he just left whizz by. He’s so irritated he almost punches his steering wheel.
There’s a reason the 1999 cult classic about office life starts with a stop-and-go drive to work — pretty much everyone who’s had a job can relate. Avoiding a commute is a main reason why a whopping 79 per cent of employees want to continue working from home even when the coronavirus pandemic ends, according to a 2020 survey. The reason? Time and money. Survey respondents said the lack of a commute was saving them about 40 minutes a day and an average of US$641 a month. I’d add being stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic hell to that list.
The frustration, money and time spent commuting presents a challenge for employers aiming to encourage employees to eagerly return to the office in 2022. While there’s little employers can do about hellish traffic, they can help ease the pain of commuting again by offering related benefits and perks.
Some forward-thinking companies, such as Vancouver City Savings Credit Union, have long offered a range of offerings to help the commute feel a little less burdensome. It provides employees with discounts on transit passes and offers shower facilities, lockers and secure bike storage to encourage staff to take greener modes of transit to work. For those buying a new bicycle, making an e-bike conversion or even tuning up their bike can also receive a rebate of between $100 and $1,000. As someone who used to regularly hop on my teal, three-speed Dutch bike pre-pandemic, these small offerings would make a big impact on me when I have to once again commute well beyond my living room-cum-office likely starting this spring.
It doesn’t stop there. The credit union also encourages employees to purchase a new electric car by offering a $5,000 rebate, a match of B.C.’s current rebate system. It also has electric vehicle charging stations onsite and keeps electric bikes, two cruiser bikes and a car from Vancouver-based car co-operative Moto available at its head office for staff to sign out if they need to make a quick business-related trip. Employees can also be reimbursed for the cost of an “unexpected” cab or bus ride if the situation is urgent. I mean, doesn’t that sound amazing? It’s *almost* enough to make me want to put on some hard pants and go back to the office right this second. Other employers, such as Victoria, B.C.’s Redbrick more recently started considering offering commuting-related benefits and perks.
While nice, these offerings are no silver bullet. As Michael Pecchia, account manager at Penmore Benefits, said of offering commuting perks as way to lure white-collar workers back to the office: “If I was working from home and comfortable, I don’t know that it would necessarily entice me, but it could for someone who lives further away and has been missing that office experience or needs to come in.”
The not-so-secret secret is many employees don’t want to go back to commuting to the office after almost two years of only having to shuffle from their beds to their couches — about a 10-15 second commute for me most mornings. Indeed, one survey found a mere 12 per cent said they like the idea of a commute longer than 15 minutes.
Alas, many employers in Canada do want employees to commute to the office this year (once the Omicron-induced wave passes), at least some of the time. But in this competitive labour market, employers expecting employees to return to the office would be wise to mull more meaningful benefits and perks similar to the Vancouver City Savings Credit Union’s offerings.
While traveling to and from an office will still be hit-the-steering-wheel level frustrating for some workers, in my honest opinion, employers that try to ease the commuting burden will ultimately win the race for top talent on the long, winding road back to the office in 2022 and beyond.