Anyone who has ridden on the New York City subway during rush hour knows that being crushed against a group of strangers like canned sardines is not an ideal situation to be in during a global pandemic.
So as companies start to reopen their offices and encourage employees to come back in person, New York City, the heart of the U.S. advertising and communications industries, faces a unique challenge with transportation phobia.
To address that, Omnicom has begun piloting a private bus service in New York City’s five boroughs to offer its thousands of employees in the city safe and comfortable transport to work.
The program, which kicked off mid-October, is a bid to encourage employees to return to the office more frequently after almost two years of remote working.
While Omnicom is letting its agencies and networks dictate their individual back-to-office policies, October marked a more concerted push from leadership to get people back in the office, according to an Omnicom spokesperson.
“We think creativity and innovation work best in person,” the spokesperson said.
Omnicom CEO John Wren mentioned the service on the company’s Q3 earnings call on October 19: “We are looking at many alternatives to provide our people a safe return back to the office,” he said. “In the months ahead, we look forward to welcoming more of our staff back with a continuing priority on their safety and flexibility.”
The idea came together after Omnicom noticed its London offices were at almost 80% capacity as people began feeling comfortable returning to work. While there’s a lot of commuting that happens in London and other major global cities, the holding company saw New York as a particular barrier.
“People are nervous about mass transit,” the spokesperson said.
The private transportation service kicked off with 12 coach buses that pick up employees and drop them off at central locations in the Bronx, Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens and New Jersey. Last week, Omnicom expanded to include routes in Manhattan as well.
Employees can book a seat on the bus using a Condeco app.
Omnicom plans to see if the service gains traction among employees in its first few weeks, and will then reevaluate the success of the program. The company is still getting the message out, but the number of people who took the bus service doubled every day in its first week operating, the spokesperson said.
In addition to the buses, Omnicom’s agencies are also enticing employees to come back in on the same days with lunches and happy hours.
“The issue is getting the critical mass of people back in the office,” the spokesperson said. “If there's only a handful of people in, you won't make the effort.”
Agencies are eager to get talent back into the office as they face a shortage of workers in what’s become known as the “Great Resignation.” For many young staffers, working at an agency is all about experiencing the culture, which many people feel is lacking in a remote-only environment.