Why the daily commute should be a key factor in office decision making

To say I’m obsessive about the subject of productivity in the workplace is an understatement. It is integral to much of the subject matter I write about, including the core theme contained in my book Don’t Worry About The Rent.

Whilst undertaking research for the book, it was important for me to get to the bottom of the decision-making processes that many businesses go through when choosing office space. I was well aware of the predisposition in the commercial real-estate industry to ask questions about size, cost and location, but I was particularly interested in what other issues might become ‘top of mind’ when management is considering office choice. Predictably, I found that tenant surveys, including those undertaken by Colliers International, confirmed the two major issues management were size and cost. The next biggest issue, however, was a surprise and it related to concerns around commuting.

With this discovery, the first question that entered my head was, “How do transport options and office location affect staff productivity?” Fortunately, I had been previously involved in research around this very issue, though with a particular bias associated with planning regimes and development outcomes, comparing urban infill to development on the fringes. That research suggested a six per cent productivity gain was available when people participated in active travel modes (defined as thirty minutes of walking or cycling per day).

The main reason for this productivity improvement was a reduction in obesity and health risks in those who undertake ‘active’ commuting. This is, of course, enabled by making use of effective and efficient public transport systems, but what’s really interesting is that that workplace productivity improvements of as little as six to 10 per cent may be sufficient to completely offset the rental cost of your office.

It is well documented that there are a variety of influences on staff productivity, from healthy environments to workplace culture and happiness, but the ability for staff to find time to think, relax and recover is often overlooked.

A productive commute could be as simple as the ability to read a book, have a nap, get some incidental exercise through participating in active transport, or catch-up on emails and phone calls - increasingly staff can take advantage of free Wi-Fi services on public transport systems, whether to undertake additional work, catch-up on emails or perhaps even to take advantage of their commute to find some downtime using recreational and entertainment apps. All of these things could in some way improve either personal or professional productivity.

So when thinking about your next office choice, the conversation about location needs to be a strategic one. Once you have determined a short list of options, you should then seriously consider the opportunities associated with increasing staff productivity via either ‘active’, ‘restful’ or in some ways ‘gratifying’ use of public transport. To do this, you will need to consider the following issues:

• Ensure the location of your office is near multiple public transport modes and consider whether their frequency of service will meet the needs of your staff.

• Prioritise end-of-trip facilities for use by cyclists in your office.

• Enable your staff’s mobility through the effective use of their mobile devices.

So, forget about cars and non-essential car-parking: they should only be required for ‘on the road’ salespeople or pool cars. Concentrate instead on how you can encourage staff to participate in cycling, walking and the use of public transport. The result? Healthier, happier and more productive staff, the benefits of which may contribute to offsetting the costs of your rent.

 

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