The Future of the American Commute survey data, part two: mind the gaps

This post is part of an ongoing series discussing a survey of more than 10,000 commuters across the United States issued by Scoop’s User Research team to understand better what the future of the American commute will look like in the wake of COVID-19. You can read part one here.

Our data show that the commute is a central consideration when it comes to employee safety

While we initially launched our research to understand commuter sentiment in the context of COVID-19, we’re now using these ongoing surveys to learn how commuters’ and employers’ views on commuting continue to evolve as they relate to return-to-workplace plans and beyond.

In part one of this survey series, we introduced the results our Scoop User Research team uncovered from over 10,000 survey participants since May 2020 to better understand how employees feel about their commutes and returning to the workplace in the time of COVID-19.

We also discussed why equity matters for the employee commute, because many workers can’t work remotely and/or do not have access to personal vehicles for their commutes for a variety of reasons, potentially forcing them to choose between going to work in a manner they feel is unsafe or not going to work at all.

In this post, we’ll be taking a more nuanced look at equity and commute concerns across different backgrounds. In particular, our data show attitudes and resources vary most strikingly by gender and age.

Women versus men*: health and safety commute considerations

Women express greater concern about their health and physical safety during the commute, while men feel more restless and disconnected while working from home.

Before COVID, just under 80% of women said physical safety was either important or very important to them when considering their commute, compared to just under 70% of men.

This gap has persisted since the pandemic, with over 90% of women saying physical safety is now important to them, compared to 81% of men. However, both men and women show similar levels of concern for health when thinking about how to commute: 85.5% of women and 82.1% of men say health considerations are very or somewhat important to them while commuting.

Women versus men*: return-to-workplace and remote work preferences

Men generally appear more eager or more able to return to the workplace than women do, with nearly 40% of men saying they would prefer to return to the workplace as soon as possible–compared to only 25.5% of women.

This gender breakdown is mirrored in different attitudes about the downsides of working from home versus in the workplace, too. Just 30% of men said they felt socially connected to their colleagues while working remotely, compared to 34% of women—though women appear to feel greater levels of social connection in the office as well—76% (women) to 70% (men).

Women also reported greater feelings of satisfaction with how focused they are working remotely—65% of women respondents said they agreed that they are focused while working remotely, compared to 58% of men. In the office, this gap disappears: 69% of both men and women agree they feel happy with their level of focus in the workplace.

Though preferences and abilities differ regarding a variety of return-to-workplace and remote work considerations, our national survey revealed the financial cost of returning to the workplace is top-of-mind for both men and women. When considering their commute options, only about 1 in 10 of all respondents say driving alone is cost-effective for them.

Commuting preferences by age group

We see greater differences in financial concerns and available resources when we cut the data by age group. When asked about their top two priorities in choosing their commutes, more 18-24-year-old workers said they wanted the cheapest available commute solution than older age respondents. Moreover, when asked about access to a personal vehicle for their commute, over 40% of 18-24-year-old Scoop users and over 20% of 25-34-year-old Scoop users said they had no access to a personal vehicle. On the other hand, fewer than 10% of respondents 35 and older lacked such access.

The younger demographic’s lack of access to personal vehicles is concerning when we remember that just 29% of all respondents said they felt safe taking a company shuttle, and only 16% of all respondents felt public transportation was a safe method of commuting since the pandemic began. These data highlight the need for employers to keep in mind the varying levels of access to personal vehicles and safe shared modes of transportation when building and implementing their return-to-workplace plans.

Before shelter-in-place orders began, just 16% of all respondents had ever walked or biked to work, and just 50% had ever worked remotely. Only 5% and 19%, respectively, said they would make these methods—walking/biking or working remotely—their primary commute methods upon returning to work. Workers who lack access to a vehicle for their commute, and these workers in the 18-24 age range with fewer resources overall, may find themselves in an untenable position of potentially having to use a commute mode they perceive as unsafe.

Lastly, those younger workers who can continue working remotely are not necessarily happier as a result. Only 51% of the 18-24-year-old group said they were happy with their level of focus while working remotely. That number rose 21 points when this same group was asked if they were happy with their focus in the workplace, much higher than the point gap when we look at all respondents.

The central takeaway

All of the data above distills into a single sentiment: people have a variety of competing priorities they’re weighing as they contemplate returning to the workplace and how they’re going to get there. People are trying to strike a balance between health and safety, cost, feelings of social connection, feeling focused and satisfied with one’s work, and many other factors.

Scoop has been giving considerable thought to these tensions and the unique circumstances each commuter faces. We’re committed to working with employers to provide a safe, reliable, and convenient commute option for their people so employees can feel empowered to have choices that work for their circumstances. For those who cannot work remotely or drive themselves to work, carpooling—with Scoop specifically—was perceived as the next safest available option.

We’re also thinking about a variety of ways to enhance safety in every carpool. In addition to our routinely-updated health & safety guidelines dedicated to keeping the Scoop community safe, we’re introducing a symptom verification checker directly into our app and developing tools to help carpoolers only match with co-workers or neighbors they trust and feel safe taking a trip with.

These survey insights are no doubt important, and we’re only scratching the surface of what we hope to accomplish with our research. COVID-19 has made clear what Scoop has been working to solve for years—that commuting is a highly impactful part of each person’s work day. There’s no better time than now to figure out how to make returning to work, work for everyone.

*We’d like to call out that we welcome participants across the spectrum of gender identities to participate in our Scoop commuter surveys. This article highlights insights between men and women respondents because although this specific survey allowed participants to identify among non-binary and binary options, the number of respondents in the non-binary categories was too small to generate insights from.

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