Member Briefing: April 23, 2021

Here is a special weekly update from the RTA business coalition — the voice of the regional business community on transportation — as our region progresses out of the pandemic.

Thoughts on workplace culture, return to office… and traffic.
This week, I participated in an excellent regional economic development forum hosted by The Chamber For a Greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro, which highlighted ongoing business expansion in our market.

With continued growth across our region even during the pandemic, and with return-to-office slowly but steadily picking up, overall daily traffic has essentially returned to pre-coronavirus levels, although the peak periods are still lower. While rush hour congestion has not yet returned, there is a traffic time bomb of sorts sitting in the background, potentially waiting to go off if we all go back into the office every day.

Fortunately, we won’t all return to the same five day, 8a-5p weekday work schedule simultaneously. However, if corporate re-entry numbers were to tick up significantly and quickly, we will see an immediate deterioration of traffic – particularly during the afternoon peak period.

On the other hand, many of us have been clamoring to get back into the office, for both collaboration and culture reasons. There are clear benefits to being together with our associates for innovation, strategy, and synergy. In addition, workplace culture is important for exemplifying, sharing, and advancing corporate values, as well as connectedness to the team – and there is no substitute for in-person interactions to build and maintain culture.

So how do we reconcile these seemingly competing goals – as well as other initiatives such as environmental sustainability, which may be advanced by reducing travel requirements. While the art to success may vary from company to company, one key will be to retain connectedness in the flexible workplace, while minimizing the “unwanted togetherness” (i.e. traffic congestion) that a simultaneous, full return-to-work could create.

In this week’s blog, I discuss the importance of companies retaining flexible days, and especially flexible hours, in order to increase job satisfaction by relieving traffic stress for employees and the system itself.  I also reference a prior blog that  suggested how individual associates might plan their day and workplace location based on the purpose of potential meetings. I still stand by that suggestion as one possible “dynamic flexplace” model – and I hope it can inspire other thoughts.

The bottom line: while no single firm can control or prevent traffic congestion in the region, a company can control the traffic congestion that their associates experience on a day-to-day basis by retaining workplace flexibility. 

As always, I welcome your feedback, and I thank you for your support of business leadership on regional mobility and infrastructure.

Let’s get moving,

Joe Milazzo II, PE
RTA Executive Director

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