The British bike boom is a "social shift that is likely to go in a single direction," says Tim Oldman, one of the principals of Leesman, a workplace productivity consultancy. He was talking to town planners and architects at the be2 conference held in central London yesterday. He said employers need to "plan for an ever increasing number of cyclists in the workplace."
Leesman offers employee satisfaction data capture tools for businesses. The Leesman Index provides workplace managers with online and handheld employee satisfaction and engagement tools. An engaged, consulted workforce is happier and more productive, believes Oldman. A Leesman Index audit of a workplace digs into minutiae, such as whether the right coffee is being served, but can also discover wider areas of concern, including thoughts on the journey to and from work. Leesman execs have noticed, via their data capture tools, that more and more employees are asking for better travel-to-work options, including more facilities for storing and securing bicycles.
"It may be difficult to connect cycling to a measurable increase in sense of productivity, but it is a social shift that is likely to go in a single direction and designers need to plan for an ever increasing presence of the cyclist in the workplace," said Oldman.
Leesman has an office in the Netherlands and Oldman has seen at first hand how cities – and employers – which cater for people not just cars see productivity gains.
"Dutch people have an intrinsic understanding of ‘new ways of working’," said Oldman. "It is a workplace nation with a strong respect for the balance of providing environments that allow staff to select spaces most appropriate to the task they are undertaking at that point – be they in the office or elsewhere.
"And the Netherlands is very advanced in its thinking around cycling. In 1972, Groningen, the largest city in the north of the Netherlands, set out plans that would establish it as the “world cycling city”. Today 57 percent of journeys within the city are made by bike. It offers what urban planners call ‘filtered permeability’, a road network configuration that filters out the car the further toward the city centre you get."
And Oldman thinks Britain could learn a lot from the wide appeal of cycling in the Netherlands.
"Beyond the Netherlands, cycling is on the increase in almost every urban centre. Time strapped and economically squeezed employees are ditching the gym membership for the bike, breeding a new multi modal hybrid commuter. The health benefits for employee and employer are measurable. Employees with a better personal health regime are absent less."
But he said workplaces need to actively cater for people choosing to cycle in to work:
"How far into the workplace are cyclists allowed to bring their new investment? And their wet cycle gear? The streetscape around our Amsterdam office features numerous locations to lock up bikes – and they are always rammed, regardless of the weather. But British cyclists want space to store cycles – folding or otherwise. Employers should start offering more locker space than tenants usually allow."
In August, the British Council for Offices issued the results of a survey on the increased demand for workplace cycling facilities saying that "for some people they were a deciding factor in where to work."
"Cycle storage gains crucial BREEAM points at the development stage of projects," said the BCO report. "A building or company’s image as being a socially and environmentally responsible place to work is crucial to gaining and retaining tenants/staff."
Companies represented in the survey included the BBC, BT, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, Eversheds, Lend Lease, and the Metropolitan Police.