The benefits of flexible working arrangements for employers and employees are well advocated. Less so are the synergies between active transport and flexible working arrangements, and their dualities to provide positive environmental outcomes.
There have been many insights gained these last few months on having more people working from home, children studying from home, and the impacts on our suburban streets and major road systems.
In Australia, the transport sector is the third largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions and has the highest growth rate. Of those transport emissions, the private vehicle is responsible for roughly half.
Our traditional 9am to 5pm working day has much to blame for this: morning peak hour commutes and traffic jams and the reverse in mass exodus at the end of the day. As a gross generalisation, our typical office environment has created a situation whereby the vast majority of office workers need to swarm in to the same place, at the same time, five days a week; and then disperse out again at the end of the day. Of course this is going to result in traffic congestion!
It doesn’t have to be like this.
The last few months have taught us this and many of us have had the opportunity to witness, firsthand, an alternative approach. One which creates a virtuous circle for the benefits of flexible working arrangements, less traffic on the roads, more people riding bikes, government spend in safer infrastructure, more people riding bikes… etc.
When people aren’t reliant on private vehicles and public transport for commuting purposes and, instead, choose more sustainable options like walking and riding, their mental and physical health benefits. Active transport (walking and riding as a mode of travel) is an efficient way to incorporate regular exercise in the daily routine.
But – this isn’t always feasible. There are barriers. Among them, distance is one – it’s often too far from someone to consider walking or riding from home to the office. Another key barrier is safety. It can be argued that the more cars on the roads, the less safe people feel when riding bikes. The opposite is also true: the less cars on the road, the safer people feel to ride bikes, and will be more likely to do so.
Right now, we’re at a cross-roads as people start returning to office environments but social distancing requirements remain. Public transport is often hailed as a saviour to peak-hour congestion. However, likely until there is a vaccine for Coronavirus, less people will be able to travel on public transport to maintain social distance spacing. The options for those people who have previously taken public transport are:
- Private vehicle;
- Walk or ride; or
- Flexible working arrangements
If people who have previously taken a private vehicle to work continue to do so AND those who previously took public transport resort also to private vehicle we’re going to have worse congestion than ever before. Read: worse congestion; worse pollution; more stress and anxiety; more wasted and unproductive time… It’s a lose-lose.
Ideally, a combination of the latter two – walk/ride and flexible working arrangements – will provide the greatest benefits for everyone.
Prior to COVID-19, many cities and countries across the globe have taken varying degrees of actions to encourage active transport.
During these last few months, Governments across the globe have rushed to implement initiatives to allow for greater numbers of people to continue walking and riding; and particularly for commuting purposes – reorganising public space and prioritising people walking and riding. These initiatives have included:
- pop-up and temporary new bike lanes installed;
- slower, safer, traffic speeds introduced;
- fast-tracked funding commitments for new walking and cycling infrastructure;
- widening footpaths and pavements;
- automating pedestrian traffic crossings so that people don’t have to touch a button;
- former vehicle space shut permanently to cars in favour of people walking and riding bikes; and
- government subsidies for bike servicing and mechanical services.
Many workplaces are beginning to consider their options for continued flexible working arrangements, including:
- Working from home;
- Working from home part-time;
- Working closer to home (satellite offices); and
- Staggered working hours.
NOTE: Satellite offices are instances where organisations work together, or across different worksites, to enable staff to work in an office closer to home. This helps reduce the barrier of distance which often prevents people from walking or riding to work.
By enabling your staff with more flexible working arrangements you’re keeping cars off the roads and contributing positive environmental outcomes. You’re also making the streets safer for those who do wish to walk and ride; simply by having less traffic to contend with. More people riding bikes also puts further pressure on governments to provide increasing amounts of safe and separated infrastructure for people to walk and ride.
For those who choose to walk and ride to work, the benefits for employers are:
- less absenteeism
- regular exercise keeps your staff fit and healthy
- greater productive
- people who walk and ride to work arrive fresh and invigorated
- reduced anxiety
- from traffic congestion and public transport
- ability to attract and retain quality staff
- Research shows that support for walking and riding is a key consideration for many staff looking for new jobs, and the right workplace facilities can be make or break on whether or not to take a particular job.
Workplace facilities to support walking and riding include having secure bike parking facilities; clean and hygienic changerooms (some workplaces even offer fresh, daily towel services); lockers of an appropriate size and location; and hot showers. The seamless integration between these facilities is also important.
Employers who adopt flexible working arrangements for their staff are not just doing themselves, their staff and the environment a huge favour, they’re also ticking a number of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The bicycle delivers directly on 10 of the SDGs, and indirectly to at least another four, proving that it really is a simple solution to so many of the world’s most complex challenges.
The time to act is now. This is being dubbed as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
For further information on end of trip facilities, or to develop a Workplace Travel Plan as part of your flexible working arrangements, get in touch and say hi: AnnaGurnhillConsulting@gmail.com +61 400 843 858
Hero image credit; Karl Bewick, unsplash