How to Help Your Employees Before They Even Get to the Office

Your impact on employees begins before they even set foot in the office in the morning. That impact stems from the benefits you are—or aren’t—giving to employees to help with their commute.

A recent article in Benefits Pro highlights the importance of ensuring employees are able to make it to work without putting additional strain on their already stressed-out nerves.

“As we think about these human experiences and our physical spaces, we need to pay equal attention to how we bring employees back to work with a safe and flexible commute. After all, employees will only return to work once they feel safe doing so. And when they do return to work, it likely won’t be every day of the week. Our Band-Aid approach of allowing everyone to drive in during the pandemic simply won’t scale,” E. Sohier Hall writes.

The pandemic is a crisis in which the situation changes week-to-week, and potentially day-to-day. Here in New York City, for instance, business and school closures are re-evaluated seemingly every week based on changes in the percentage of COVID-19 tests that are positive in each zip code. An employee who is a parent in one of the zip codes where schools have been ordered closed might need an accommodating employer that could allow them to work from home for at least part of the day.

“As we bring more populations back to the workplace, one of the first considerations is communication. It’s important that HR and commute managers put into place IT systems that allow the organization to connect with employees based on location, department, and commute method so that messages about safety and well-being don’t get lost in crowded inboxes, to the extent employees even have ready access to e-mail,” Hall notes.

An area such as New York City, with frequently re-evaluated openings and closings based on COVID-19 positivity rates, requires a system that would enable Human Resources managers to keep up with the latest changes, and then quickly message employees—hopefully by text—to alert them of accommodations and help from the company as their families cope with the changed circumstances. The Training or Learning professional’s role would be to prepare managers to collaborate with Human Resources to ensure every employee has a tailor-made work arrangement so he or she is able to continue being productive without undue stress.

With all the uncertainty and need for rapid adjustments, monthly parking passes and other monthly or yearly based commuter arrangements no longer work. “Organizations may need to retire the monthly parking pass as both obsolete and inequitable. With teleworking a major part of the dynamic workplace, how many employees will be driving to work every day anyway? It is not flexible, nor is it fair to the employee to pay for days they do not come to the office. Also, now would be a good time to ask ourselves why those with the biggest paychecks often get the highest parking reimbursement levels. As you put more flexible plans in place, take the time to build in policies that are equitable for your lower-income workers,” Hall writes.

Giving employees a way to reserve and pay for parking spots before arriving to the office is another way to help make employees’ difficult pandemic lives easier, Hall suggests.

Sometimes ideas that were forward-thinking and innovative before the pandemic need to be rethought and adjusted. Carpools are an environmentally friendly and convenient way for employees to get to work, but Hall notes that during the pandemic, most people are wary of getting into a car with people outside of their household. Instead, what might work is the carpooling equivalent of the pandemic playgroup pod, which my five-year-old niece has experienced. This is a group of maybe three or four, or even five, employees, who carpool exclusively with each other. Unlike some pre-pandemic carpools, in which the company may have matched employees from all different parts of the company based on geographic location, the pandemic carpool pod would be more carefully arranged. Employees in each pod would make sure they trust each other’s pandemic safety routines, and they would consistently carpool with each other, rather than having different people to carpool with week to week.

Another approach, which Hall thinks could be a great help, are employer-sponsored shuttles that enable employees to avoid crowded trains and buses. This would benefit employees by keeping them safe and feeling secure, and would benefit the employer by reducing the chances of a COVID-19 outbreak from an employee who caught the virus during his or her commute.

Long—or even relatively short—commutes have never been fun, but they can seem risky and frightening during the pandemic, in addition to unpleasant. Finding ways to lessen these fears and potential virus exposure to your office is a win-win for employees and business continuity.

Is your company taking steps to help employees keep safe and relaxed during their commutes, while reducing your office’s exposure to the virus?

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