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OPINION

The four big cycling challenges companies face post-lockdown

George Hill's picture
The anticipated post-lockdown surge in cycle commuting is massively positive, but it's not without its challenges for the companies that commuters will be riding to

We are all still in lockdown in the UK, but as we are seeing these measures begin to lift, people are slowly going back to their places of work.

After we return however, the world we will come back to will not be the same one we left all those months ago. Everything will change and companies need to be prepared for it.

With things like social distancing, single use goods, and thorough cleaning all being relatively self explanatory, one major thing that many companies are ill-equipped to deal with is the predicted tenfold increase in the number of their employees cycling to the office. With public transport only running at 10% capacity and a general unwillingness from people to be in close proximity to strangers this increase is both predictable and something organisations need to prepare for.

Whilst running Cycling for Work, I have spoken to many people over the past few weeks to find out the barriers that companies face in getting their employees to work by bike. The four key challenges that companies need to deal with in order try to solve this are:

1. Showers

At the moment there are hundreds of companies with a shower in their office and up until now, for the most part, the number of showers has been manageable. Even when it was a nice day where people who would normally take public transport have decided to cycle to work, there may have been a slight queue, but nothing major. With a predicted 1000% increase in these numbers, a lack of showers is not just an inconvenience, but almost becomes business critical.

Traditionally, organisations who can't or won't put more showers in their offices have got around this through their employees taking up gym memberships and showering there. Post-lockdown however, the number of people who will need to use these facilities at a time when gyms are going to be enacting strict social distancing measures is going to make that option unworkable.

Companies therefore have to work out what kind of showering facilities they need based on the number of people they will have in their offices. There is a generally held consensus that organisations are going to be running office rotas, with a reduced number of people in the office at any one time. This will offer two opportunities to make the shortfall in shower facilities slightly less extreme. Firstly, it will free up office space which could be converted into shower facilities and secondly, it will reduce the total numbers of people needing to use them. However, even with these changes companies need to take quick action to pre-empt these changes before they become critical.  

2. Secure bike storage

According to Yellow Jersey there were 13,686 bikes stolen in London between January and August 2018. This is no surprise given that there were 730,000 bike journeys made per day in the capital in 2016 and that number has likely increased further still in the subsequent four years.

Bike theft is a huge issue because bike storage facilities provided by many organisations are simply not fit for purpose. For instance, walking around the Liverpool Street area of London the majority of outdoor storage seems to be in alleyways or behind buildings with little footfall past them. This makes it easy for a bike thief to just take their pick and chop a lock with little chance of being caught.

The way that companies think about bike storage needs to change to fit the new reality in which we will be living. With the predicted increase in bikes being left from 9-5 in urban areas, the opportunities for bike thieves will increase in tandem and this needs to be addressed. As public transport will be running at a severely decreased capacity people need to cycle to work. If they have their bike stolen then that isn't possible.

Even companies that pride themselves on secure bike storage facilities, like shared offices or larger companies, need to expand their offerings which will create additional challenges. The best examples of these are in highly secure rooms or cages, often in the basement surrounded by other critical building infrastructure. Expanding these will not simply be a case of adding more racks, it will require almost an entire rethink of the facilities. You can't easily remove a boiler or a server room to increase bike storage.

3. Policies

This is an element that varies wildly between companies, with some doing great work, but there have been horror stories circulating from people who's employers have made it almost impossible to easily ride to work.

For instance, Cycling for Work recently spoke to an employee at a large corporate insurance company who deals with clients on a daily basis. This involves taking them out to dinners or drinks after work. As his offices do not allow their employees to access the bike storage in the building after 7pm, when he is out at a client meeting after work (up to 3 or 4 times per week) he is prevented from cycling to work.

Cycling for Work have heard similar stories from a cross section of employees. At a PR agency, a Communications Manager was forbidden from leaving a bike in company secure storage overnight, meaning that when a last minute meeting came up on the other side of the city, she was left with a difficult choice. She had to either call off the meeting or take her bike along without knowing what kind of facilities would be available at the meeting site. Although after lockdown there is likely to be a huge decrease in the number of external meetings, this still causes problems if you get called away from the office at short notice.

Effective policies go well beyond those directly linked to cycling, and some of the fundamental parts of working life may need to be adapted to fit the new influx of cyclists. Everybody who previously cycled to work will have found themselves in a queue for the shower and been a few minutes late for work. If there are 10x more people using those same facilities, strict time keeping in an office needs to change. Suffering under the expectation to be sat at your desk in your work clothes at 9am sharp is not compatible with these new realities. Instead, organisations need to adapt their policies to better fit cyclists' needs, whether that's allowing people to start the day in sportswear before changing, or allowing flexible working hours for all.

4. Employee confidence

The key to cycling safely, particularly in urban environments, is cycling with confidence. This means that cyclists make more deliberate and predictable movements, know their right of way, and are more assertive and receptive to the environment around them. However, with the majority of the media coverage of cycling being negative the perception of cycling in urban areas is one of danger, arguments, and injuries. Although there is no getting around these being slight factors, any well-versed cyclist will know that the vast majority of your time on your bike is a joyful experience.  

To combat this negative perception, employers who need their employees on-site need to give them the confidence to ride safely in urban areas.

This is not just education in road safety, but in the upkeep and repair of equipment, knowing what equipment is needed in the first place, knowing the quickest and safest route etc. Expecting nervous and underprepared new cyclists to ride to work will only lead to anxiety and fear. For a new cyclist, having all the gear to fix a puncture doesn't necessarily mean they will know the method for doing so. Unfortunately, punctures are just a fact of life for most urban cyclists and knowing that it isn't the end of the world and how to fix it yourself only builds your confidence further.

Even just an hour-long workshop over Zoom with a cycling consultant or one to one with an experienced cyclist will help to allay the fears that most new cyclists experience. Most will have questions that need answering, many will have the wrong information, and some will just be terrified of the prospect, in order to combat these issues it's essential that organisations listen to employee needs and give them the training and confidence required to get back to work.

Cycling for Work is a cycling consultancy that helps companies improve their infrastructure, educate their employees on cycling in urban environments, and assists in creating new cycling policies.

George spends his days helping companies deal with their cycling commuting challenges with his company Cycling for Work. He has been writing for Road.cc since 2014. 

When he is not writing about cycling, he is either out on his bike cursing not living in the countryside or boring anybody who will listen about the latest pro peloton/cycling tech/cycling infrastructure projects. 

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