Roei Friedberg is CEO of Aura Americathe air purification company that offers solutions that make the air clean and safe.
Personal interactions are back. Restrictions are being lifted and more and more companies are encouraging their staff to go back to work in person. Students and working parents hope, for many good reasons, that this will also be a full year of personal education.
In the big cities, more people are already going to work personally, even if it is only a few days a week. According to a study by Placer.ai by foot traffic data of nearly 250 office buildings, New York City office buildings saw a 54.4% increase in foot traffic in the second quarter of 2022 compared to the same period last year. Offices in San Francisco saw an 84.6% increase in visitors.
Returning to offices and schools is a big change – and sometimes a source of stress – for millions of people who have become accustomed to remote working and have come to easily commute to their home offices and remote classrooms. Commuting, especially for those drive a car long distances, is known disadvantageous (paywall) to physical, mental and environmental health. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Business leaders can and should do more to encourage their staff to take advantage of healthier ways to get to the office. For a few lucky workers nearby, healthier commutes can be walking or biking. For the rest of us, the answers lie in public transportation options like trains and buses.
Here are three ways we should all consider supporting healthier commuting on public transport as we welcome employees to the office.
1. Urge policy makers to make public transport healthier and safer.
Since the start of the pandemic, people have been wary of public transportation and its potential role in the spread of germs and viruses. Wearing a mask is still encouraged to stay healthy, but there are other crucial ways I see to ensure trains and buses are protected from viruses and other airborne toxins.
Improving air quality and ventilation systems on mass transit is paramount. As business leaders, we must encourage transport officials and private bus companies to invest in air purification solutions. (Full disclosure: My company offers air purification solutions, as do others.)
Federal funding made billions of dollars available to transportation companies to upgrade in-cab air management systems. Air monitoring and purification system help reduce the risks of air pollution for commuters and passengers. To keep our children safe and healthy, school buses in particular need to be equipped with HEPA filter systems.
2. Provide and share the benefits of public transportation.
The number of people using public transport has fallen to historic lows in places like New York City. Sometimes this can help reduce crowds waiting for trains, but it can also mean fewer trains running, which frustrates commuters. We can encourage our teams to use public transportation more often by offsetting the costs of traveling on buses and trains with things like deductions or other direct incentives.
As leaders, we can help our employees see the greater good in the daily work they do and the decisions they make, including their commute. We can share information and reward healthy choices. When more people take public transport instead of individual cars that cause pollution, our collective emissions and our harmful impact on the environment are reduced.
Workers who take bus or train are less likely to experience the stress of driving in heavy traffic or breathing the invisible but harmful air pollutants released by cars.
3. Encourage employees to make the most of their commute.
One of the main complaints about remote working is the loss of a regular routine; work and private life are intertwined, making it a challenge for many employees to ‘close’ their work themselves when the day is done.
In the long run, this can lead to psychological problems and burnout among employees. The daily routine of commuting, especially by train or bus, can give employees the space to create daily rituals to read, listen to music or a podcast, or simply mentally prepare for or relax from the workday.
Commuting is valuable time on an individual level, and it can also be a time to connect with someone else. In recent years, many employees have switched companies or made other career steps. Supervisors can encourage employees to welcome new faces into the building and get to know each other in different ways. Commuting can play a role here: Set up a transit buddy system. Interested employees can sign up to meet and ride on the same bus or train as a colleague who lives nearby. This can also be used for carpooling.
Our return to pre-pandemic lives and routines may be safer, healthier and more rewarding. By making sure the air we breathe on the commute is cleaner until it gives our teams the time and space to recharge and reconnect, we can help make the commute something make it something our employees enjoy rather than fear.