How to Solve the Commuting Problem
Quick: how much time did you spend commuting yesterday? How much time did your best employee spend? How much time did that dream recruit spend? Chances are, one of those three spent more time than he or she would like.
As the CMO at Chatbooks, we believe that we don’t have to work like it’s 1999. As we recruit and retain amazing team members from throughout the Wasatch range, one of the challenges we’ve had to grapple with was how to make commutes work when some employees live 50-plus (often traffic-filled) miles from our headquarters.
Turns out we’re not the only ones trying to solve for this. One popular solution is to split the difference and locate offices somewhere in the middle. This is why areas at the Point of the Mountain are some of the fastest growing business regions in the US. While this “go to the middle” strategy has several pros, it’s not the only logical choice. It usually requires some commute for everyone, and the commute from Park City or the Avenues can still be an undertaking. Not to mention, moving a headquarters location is a significant undertaking that may not be in the strategic plan for all business.
At Chatbooks, a Provo HQ was the best fit for most of our team, but we didn’t want our Salt Lake City team dealing with long commutes five days a week. That being said, we do believe that working together—as much as is possible and practical—fosters cross-pollination of ideas, better collaboration, and goodwill amongst colleagues. How could we optimize for time together in-person while improving productivity and employee satisfaction?
We got creative, and came up with the idea of a part-time satellite office in Sugarhouse, where Salt Lake team members can work some days of the week (on the other days, everyone comes to Provo HQ). For us, it’s a constant experiment that we continue to optimize, but so far we’d call it a success!
Here are 5 more creative ideas that local companies are trying as they attempt to help their teams spend more time working and living, and less time commuting in traffic:
Park City Culinary Institute (whose main location is in downtown Salt Lake City) lets employees flex their arrival and departure times to avoid traffic—especially the traffic associated with a 9AM start or 5PM finish. Some people arrive well before 9AM, says owner Laurie Moldawer, and leave by 3PM. Or they might arrive after 9AM. and head out after the evening rush hour.
“It wasn’t our idea in the beginning” she says. “But employees asked for it and each designed their own schedule to work with the rest of the team. Now it’s something we encourage for everyone.”
2. Have Regular Work-From-Home Days
Finch, a marketing technology company based in Sugarhouse, has found that regular work-from-home days make for happier and more productive employees, while regular “everyone-work-from-the-office” days also provide opportunity for facetime with clients and collaboration with teammates without the stress of commuting.
“The days I work from home are incredibly productive. I save about an hour commuting, so I look at it as getting an extra hour to work,” says Annie Castillo, a Product Manager. Plus, technologies like Slack and video calls make it even easier to stay in touch as needed.
3. Reimagine the Statellite Office
Satellite offices are nothing new, but new variations on the theme are showing up all over Utah. At Chatbooks, for example, our Salt Lake City satellite office is part-time—some team members work out of it a few days a week, and out of a Provo main office the other days. And satellite offices are now more connected than ever: at Qualtrics, for example, always-on video screens connect satellites from Dallas to DC with the main atrium at the Provo Headquarters.
4.Make the Office Optional
While 97th Floor, a digital marketing agency, has a traditional office in Thanksgiving Point, it lets employees choose when and where they work. COO Wayne Sleight says their philosophy comes directly out of their Results Only Work Environment, which focuses on results, not facetime.
“The days I work from home are incredibly productive. I save about an hour commuting, so I look at it as getting an extra hour to work.” – Annie Castillo | Product Manager | Finch
“We have a centrally-located office with all the amenities—conference rooms, big screens, snacks, etc. But we have as few required meetings as possible, and every meeting can be easily joined via video technology,” he says.
Mr. Sleight estimates that about 20 percent of their team works a traditional Monday to Friday schedule in the office. Another 20 percent almost never come in, and the other 60 percent work two to three days in the office, and elsewhere the rest of the time. He also notes that people adjust their schedules so that they avoid traffic.
“I’ve never heard anyone here complain about traffic, because we purposefully have no set schedules that require someone to be in it!” he says.
5. Incentive Public Transportation
We often forget, but there’s a speedy train running right alongside I-15 and Trax throughout the Salt Lake Valley. Some companies—like CHG Healthcare and Lucid—have purposefully chosen locations right near public transportation stops. Others are handling the “first mile/last mile” challenges by helping employees get to and from a train station. For example, Domo has a bus that shuttles employees to and from the nearby FrontRunner train station. And 97th Floor helps by reimbursing up to $50 a month for mass transit costs—enough for employees to use to get to the office once or twice a week.
No matter what solution a company comes up with, having a flexible office environment is crucial. Especially for those who wish to recruit or retain top talent in an increasingly competitive environment. We no longer live in a time when employees have to be chained to their desks from 9AM to 5PM to be successful. The workforce is changing. It’s time our commute changes too.
Rachel Hofstetter is the CMO of Chatbooks.