Before the pandemic, workers paid a lot for their daily work commute. From time spent on the road, to the cost of transit fares or vehicle expenses, costs added up quickly. Some employees welcomed the remote work arrangements mandated by the pandemic in part because it helped them to avoid transit time and expense. With many employers now requiring a return to the office, what do employees face with commuting in a new work world?
How do employers feel about this new work world?
As we come out of the pandemic, many companies will never return to a traditional office environment. Others look forward to the day when they can bring staff back into the office, full-time. Some feel that productivity is better on-site. Some hated the isolation that working remote can create (and some employees agree). Some employees will find themselves returning to a dynamic work environment with staggered work days or shifts in order to continue on-site social distancing.
McKinsey & Company found in a recent survey that 9 out of 10 companies will be pursuing hybrid work arrangements in the future, combining on-site and remote working. Executives expect to require employees to be in the office between one and four days per week.
And what do employees think?
Employees seem to think differently, with 60% of workers still wanting to work from home after the pandemic is over. Some employees are still afraid of COVID exposure. Others continue to experience issues with childcare. Forty percent of Americans claim they would rather clean their toilets than spend time commuting! With the average American round-trip commute running about 1 hour, that’s a lot of lost time that remote workers are now used to having for other activities. With employees struggling with the thought of commuting again, how can they be encouraged to return to the office?
Help for commuters
Since 1984, lawmakers have enabled companies to help commuting employees offset costs associated with travel to and from work. Until the start of the pandemic, these benefits helped commuters pay for ridesharing, mass transit, and parking. Once the pandemic started and many employees started working from home, those commuter benefits were rendered temporarily unnecessary. As we come out of the pandemic, with work situations changing, the use of transit benefits is changing as well.
Much like everything else these days, transit benefits need to be more flexible and adaptable. Mass transit riders who had monthly passes, for example, may not ride enough to justify those anymore. Hybrid workers may do better with fare tickets that cover some quantity of rides and don’t expire.
It may also be time for commuter benefits to include a rollover option. Companies may bring employees back in waves, or they may scale up the number of days in the office. That will work if things continue on the right track, but as we’ve already seen, unexpected COVID variants can pop up and created unforeseen setbacks.
Not everyone who is going back to the office is ready to return to mass or public transit. For employees returning to the office, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has some creative suggestions for employers:
- Incorporate bike, e-bike and scooter commuting costs in your benefits plan
- Set up ridesharing within your organization, instead of public ridesharing
- Parking stipends may be more important now than before due to reduced ridesharing
As companies look to bring employees back, whether full-time or on a hybrid schedule, the most important thing across the board is flexibility. This is especially true for transit benefits. Employers, be sure to speak with employees to gauge their comfort levels and commuting needs. Share this information with your TPA, who can suggest allowable changes to transit-related benefit plans to help meet employee needs and make their commuting lives a bit easier.
DataPath, Inc. is a leading provider of technology solutions for cloud-based benefits administration