It’s true that I still talk about my 2013 Commuter of the Year Diamond Award as if I won it yesterday. I’m like the burned out, overweight dad of three who still talks about his triumphant year as a quarter back in high school. It’s these moments, where we reach the pinnacle of our achievements, that set the bar for all things that come afterwards. I thought I had reached that pinnacle until early this year when SANDAG’s iCommute program honored Mixte Communications with a Platinum Diamond Award for our commuter program.
I might have set a new bar.
With this iCommute award, we joined only two other companies in San Diego in the highest level of achievement for our commuter program. Our commuter program means we have one full-time employee that works remotely (AKA no commute) and seven full-time employees that enjoy a mix of walking, biking and taking transit to work and remote working from home, our clients’ offices, coffee shops or anywhere in the world. For real.
But, much like the time that I placed second (out of two) in my first (and only) weight lifting competition, I’m slightly disappointed with the competitive set.
In a county like San Diego with our conducive year-round weather, I can’t understand why we don’t have hundreds of employers winning Platinum Diamond Awards. We’re always bragging about our weather. We’re always in flip flops.
For an employer to free up parking spaces, to increase healthy living, to boost employee happiness, to support the environment, to generally just do the right thing, it costs very, very little. For Mixte, it cost nothing. Sure, I can put value to my time, which, if you ask me, is priceless, but the benefits that my company reaps are worth a million times what we put into it. In a nutshell: Little cost, high reward. For everyone, including me.
In that spirit, I offer these five important things that every San Diego company needs to know in order to get more people out of cars and into a new way of commuting in San Diego.
- Lead by Example. We all know that any habit a business leader wants to see within her company should be modeled by leadership. That goes without saying. A company with leadership that takes transit or carpools or rides bicycles will undoubtedly have employees who model that behavior. Want to empower your employees to effectively work remotely? Show them how by doing. I may be the extreme, but I love to show how after a quick bike commute, I can be in power business suit with a quick change into high heels and a trusty black blazer. How else would my team know that? I hire smart people, but why force them to figure out what took me ten years to learn when I can just show them? Trust me, you’ll all be better for it.
- Survey your Employees. Data helps. Perhaps you’re thinking that a commuter program needs to have showers, bike parking, lockers and more. Or perhaps you’ll find that your employees simply want an experienced person to show them the ropes. Maybe, even better, you’ll discover that your employees want to try a non-car commute, but they don’t know if it’s acceptable at the office. They just need to hear you say: go for it. You might be surprised how many of your employees find themselves thinking about other options and wishing they could work for a company that enabled better commuting options. Don’t let this simple Q&A be the difference between employee retention and employee loss.
- Don’t Do Anything, But Make it OK. If you do nothing else, just tell people it’s OK to ride your bicycle to work. It may seem obvious that you don’t care how your employees get to work, but sometimes—and I mean most of the time—your staff needs to know that it’s OK. Back in the day when I first started riding to work, I did PR for the Hilton San Diego Gaslamp. I would commute from Hillcrest, lock my bike outside the hotel, sneak into the bathroom to change into my suit, and then meet with the general manager. I kept up this Superman routine for several months until he caught me one day. He added the conversation to our first agenda item, at which point he exclaimed, “You ride your bike here!?!? I wish I could do that. I’m so impressed and inspired.” What? Really? I can’t believe it. That one encounter rocked my world, and changed me, forever. I needed him to tell me it was OK.
- Connect People. There’s no way you’ll ever ride your bicycle to work? I get that. It’s not for everyone. But part of being a leader is talking with your staff and understanding where they are, and what they want. There are so many resources to help a newb learn how to ride to work. San Diego County Bike Coalition offers road biking classes (I took them), and maybe you know someone in the office that also bike commutes, or maybe someone at a nearby business. The only reason, and I mean the only reason, I commute to work is because my colleague at my first job rode every day. One day I asked him if he would teach me. Ian, for a week straight, rode to my house every morning, met me, and showed me how to get to work, what bike lanes were, how to signal and how to ride around cars. It feels good to know you belong to something, and it feels good to have a mentor to guide the way.
- Share Stories. We post on our blog about first-time bicycle commutes, and we also celebrate them at our staff meetings. We high five when someone takes Amtrak to Orange County and then bikes to a client meeting. Heck, we’ve even pitched our own success stories to media. The fact is that celebrating what makes people different or bold or strong makes them feel good and also inspires others to do the same. It goes back to that philosophical question of who is more important: the first person or the first follower? I might also add that the best way to message important business impacts (like freeing up a parking spot, or improving employee health, or boosting employee productivity) isn’t by saying it directly. Let your messengers prove that message in their stories.
- Bonus: Start Small. A war isn’t won in a day. Ride your bike once a week. Encourage your employees by telling them you’d love to see folks ride their bikes. Get your HR department to participate in Bike to Work Day. Contact iCommute to ask about support services to develop your own commuter program. Just start. Somewhere. Anywhere.
And, please, let’s widen the competitive set for businesses in San Diego that say “yes” to non-car commuting and “no” to doing business the same old way.