Your go-to guide for 6 months’ worth of planning
Look, it’s a complicated time. The pandemic is currently at its peak, but vaccines have been approved and are being distributed. Realistically, scientists expect us to be able to return to a version of normal life this summer. This matches up with expectations companies are setting — 72% of employers in the DC metro area expect to be back in the office by July 2021, according to a survey by the Greater Washington Partnership.
That may be 6 months from now, but there’s a lot to do between now and then. We’ve all been working from home for longer than we ever expected, and that means getting your employees back into the office safely and efficiently is going to take some planning. Don’t worry, though, we’ve been thinking about this! Welcome to your one-stop return-to-office toolkit, where you can find all the timelines, resources, suggestions, and email templates you need to get your employees informed, comfortable, and excited to get back in their seats.
Here are just a few of the companies who have trusted TransitScreen to help get their employees back to the office safely and efficiently:
First things first: Talk to your employees
Don’t just guess what your employees want — ask them. A quick survey is a very efficient way to find out exactly what your employees would like to see in their unique commute plan.
Even if you did this a few months ago, things are so different now, especially considering there will be a vaccine in place when you return. Once you have a sense of how your employees intend to get to the office (or would like to), you’ll be able to evaluate what you can offer them and what work you have ahead of you.
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Before we dive into the timeline, feel free to download our checklist for your reference. It highlights all of the important pieces outlined on this page, and gives you something to have handy to share with your return-to-office team (if that’s not you).
6 MONTHS OUT:
Create a schedule
• It might sound early, but now’s the time to start reaching out to overall solution vendors. If you’ve got a huge task ahead of you, you may want to reach out to a TMA or a TDM consultant for extra assistance — they’ll know a lot of vendors in your area. (If you’re looking for a holistic solution, you can also reach out to us here.)
• Make sure you have a return-to-office planning team and that there’s a specific person (or persons) designated to focus on logistical employee commute needs and questions. You’ll also want someone in charge of actively monitoring local guidelines around COVID protocols.
• Take inventory of existing infrastructure at your office. How much parking do you have or could you get? Do you have access to bike facilities, or do you need to improve them? (If you’re going to need to add showers, start now!)
***Psst! Want to find out what kind of commute program makes sense for your company size? You can find out more in our latest ebook.
5 MONTHS OUT:
• If you’re looking into adding a shuttle or incorporating vanpool or carpool solutions into your program, start reaching out to those vendors now to make sure there’s time to evaluate, select one, and get started. Some smaller service providers are no longer in business, so finding one, working on route planning and schedules will take time.
• Most vendors are happy to start contracts on a date that makes sense (at least, we are!), so you should be able to get everything firmly squared away for the date you plan to return.
3 MONTHS OUT:
Lay out the plan
• If you haven’t given your employees an update yet, now’s the time to start communicating your return-to-office approach.
• According to a JLL study, 64% of respondents that did not work from home before the pandemic want to incorporate it in the future. If you’re going with a phased approach based on a MWF/TTh schedule, start coordinating with team leads and managers about specific team needs.
• Let employees know which days of the week they’ll be in the office way ahead of time. Some people will need to coordinate childcare and things like that, so the more heads up, the better.
• If you discovered you need to add bike parking facilities, now’s the time to get inventive — set up a rack in the garage, convert a large conference room you can’t use, etc. Get creative!
2 MONTHS OUT:
Get in gear
• Communication is 🔑 here, so you want to make sure you have everything for the return in a centralized place. A great way to do that? Set up a workplace app. Vendors like HqO and Modo Labs can give you everything you need with a customized app just for you, including access to our real-time transportation information.
• If you’ve decided to provide some kind of bike subsidy, now is when to distribute those. Give them plenty of time to look for and purchase the bike they’ll be using for their commute, plus some time to try it out!
• If your workplace is opting for informal carpools rather than through a vendor, encourage employees to start coordinating with coworkers who will be going into the office on the same days of the week.
• Looking for a way to more easily manage your parking data? You can do that in our CityMotion app, which provides live, reliable transit information (including a live look at your parking availability).
• Reach out to local transit benefit providers so you are aware of when employees need to make changes or activations. For example, a metrocard via CommuteWorks needs to be activated by the 20th of each month.
6 WEEKS OUT:
Start the conversation
• Send out commute offerings to your employees so they are aware of what their options are and can make a plan. This is a sweet spot — there could still be service changes to public transportation, but it gives employees enough time to start looking at their options.
• Start a bike messaging campaign to get people excited. This is a particularly good time to do that if you’ll be offering people money to purchase a bike, or if you’re paying for employees’ bikeshare memberships. Six weeks is enough time for them to find the model they’re looking for and acquaint themselves with their route. We’ve got a suggestion for an email here!
“The #1 expectation from employees is that their employers communicate effectively.”
1 MONTH OUT:
Confirm the plan
• If you’re planning to use carpooling, vanpooling, or other communal commute methods during the return to office, ensure contact tracing methods are in place. Most major providers now include this in their packages.
• Send out an email to employees asking them to ensure they have a commute plan for the return and are comfortable with it. If they don’t, have someone available for questions, whether that’s during a lunch-and-learn, scheduled virtual office hours, or just over Slack. People are far more likely to carry through with a plan if they make one to begin with!
3 WEEKS OUT:
• Host a few commute option webinars or lunch-and-learns for your employees so they feel comfortable with the setup and aware of any new options. You can email us if you want some tips, and we’re happy to stop by if that’s what you need!
• If you’re interested in checking out some of our past events featuring HR and workplace operations professionals, you can see more here. (You can also sign up to be in-the-know about upcoming events over the next six months, where we’ll be bringing in experts in many of these areas.)
2 WEEKS OUT:
• Now’s the time to have your employees do a test-run of their commute, even if it’s the same one they used to have! You’ll get them back in the habit of waking up a little earlier and getting out of the house, avoiding any issues on the first day back. This is especially important for anybody who’s started a new carpool or vanpool and might want to make sure all members are on the same page!
• Encourage any new bikers to do a test run of their commute on their bike. This may overlap with National Bike Month (May), which would be fun! You can even make it an employee engagement activity.
1 WEEK OUT:
• Send out a one week countdown email blast reminder to your employees, with a detailed outline that includes all new guidelines in place. This will make sure it’s easily accessible and top of mind for employees as they go into the last week of full WFH.
5 DAYS OUT:
• Make sure you have proper channels of communication in place in case anyone has questions.
• Make sure your employees are ready for their commutes by equipping them with the commute app of their choice. Our app, CityMotion, works as either a standalone option or as an integration in your workplace app.
• Set up your in-office and app messages about safety protocols and commute program updates!
A flexible suite of solutions to fit your commute program:
Get started on your return-to-office plan by setting your team up with the right tools, both in and out of the office.
Make sure your employees have access to live transit information on both sides of their commute with our mobile application with CityMotion. Provide live transit data with our content on physical displays throughout your office with TransitScreen.
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