With the onset of the stay at home orders in March 2020, commuter parking behavior changed. And at the time, no one really could say for how long or to what extent.
But now, looking in the rearview mirror, we see that despite the enthusiastic adoption of remote work by many companies during the pandemic, there’s a cohort of employees settling back into in-office or hybrid work models that have them commuting multiple times a week.
The return-to-work data speaks for itself.
- Workplace traffic spiked 87% between January 2021 & Thanksgiving
- Even taking into consideration the surge of Omicron, the rate of employees going to the office around the holidays was 41% higher than in January 2021.
- From January 2021 to the end of the year, workplace traffic in New York City increased by more than 6x.
Let’s look at three workplace trends that parking professionals should be aware of as more and more people return to the workplace:
✓ Tenant experience apps
✓ Contactless mobile payments
First, consider the correlation between rising demand for office space & commuter activity.
One place outside of parking that we can consult for reliable indicators of commuting activity is commercial real estate, specifically in the office sector.
According to the most current commercial real estate market activity data available, demand for new office properties surged 20% nationally in March, ending a five-month period of stagnation.
That stagnation can be reasonably attributed to the Omicron wave.
But with that wave having largely subsided, seasonal commuter patterns are expected to stabilize – that is to say, we’ll see dips in workplace traffic around holidays and a higher concentration of employees in the office mid-week.
What this could mean for office-adjacent parking facilities is that though they’re different that prior to the pandemic, commuter patterns increasingly are predictable, and there’s significant opportunity to capture revenue on days with higher demand.
Trend to watch #1: Hot-desking
Hot-desking is the practice of allocating desks to workers on a rotating system instead of giving each employee their own dedicated desk.
This is a cost-effective model for companies because they can scale their teams without purchasing more office space, and it’s convenient for employees because they can experience the benefits of being in the office a couple of days a week while still working at home when preferable.
What this indicates for parking operators is clear: commuters who are planning to come into the office are planning for when they park.
Repeat commuter trends have started to emerge:
- Tuesday and Wednesday are the most popular days to work in the office.
- On average, 60% of all employees surveyed work on-site in the middle of the week.
- Employees who work for companies with hot desk models are proactive about booking their spots, some reserving a desk as many as 3 days ahead of time.
Parking operators can follow emerging commuter trends and combine that data with the data they’re collecting about transactions and occupancy to forecast demand.
Having a data-based understanding of demand at any given time and being able to reasonably predict parking patterns enables variable pricing, which maximizes yield.
Enabling parking customers to book ahead of time at their facilities, as well, serves up a similar experience to how they may be reserving a desk at the office with a tenant experience app.
Trend to watch #2: Tenant experience apps
According to a recent study by VTS, a leading commercial real estate technology company, 90% of commercial office landlords believe that tenant experience apps provide value for employees and rank tenant experience software among their top three investments this year.
A tenant experience app can be defined as a mobile app and/or web portal through which tenants of a commercial or residential building can interact with their building and their property managers.
These apps (such as HqO, VTS Rise, & Equiem) create convenience and community for the employees of the companies that lease their properties. They provide features and amenities like touch-free building entry, conference room reservations, maintenance request submissions, food delivery, and, you guessed it: parking.
Considering a whopping 76% of workplace leaders state that their job success hinges on employee satisfaction, and that landlords need to keep these workplace leaders satisfied to retain them as tenants, it’s no surprise that tenant engagement apps are being widely adopted this year.
There is a unique opportunity here for parking operators to form partnerships with asset owners and landlords to integrate seamless parking functionality – access, reservations, and transactions – into tenant experience apps to provide additional benefit for their tenants’ employees.
The opportunity exists, too, for parking technology companies that produce hardware and software for collecting data and removing friction from the customer experience.
Commuter satisfaction grows, and the employee, the company, the property manager, the parking operator, the parking technology companies, and the asset owner all equally benefit from that.
Trend to watch #3: Mobile payments
Mobile payment technology turns a mobile device into micro-wallet that doesn’t have to come into direct contact with the payment reader in order to accomplish a transaction. In 2023, it’s predicted that there will be 1.31 billion mobile payment users worldwide, up from 950 million users in 2019.
The preference for “contactless” payments was accelerated by the pandemic, when transacting via QR code, digital wallet, or tap-to-pay became ubiquitous in retail and dining environments.
But to understand the impact of mobile payments on commuter parking behavior, we have to look at the demographics:
- The combined generational cohorts of Millennials and Gen Z will make up 72% of the world’s workforce by 2029.
- Gen Z’s buying power is the fastest-growing of any cohort; their income is anticipated to hit $33 trillion by the time they enter the workplace in 2030.
- In 2021, 65% of Millennials used a digital wallet (up from 59% in 2020).
- In 2021, 57% of Gen Z used a digital wallet (up from 50% in 2020).
Looking at the Millennial commuter and Gen Z commuter as they return to the office (and step into positions of increasing power and influence), we need to implement technology that accommodates their purchasing habits: mobile payments.
Equipment in a parking facility that enables this includes PARCS, scanners, Bluetooth, license plate recognition (LPR), QR code signage, and online reservations.
These technologies well serve both the planned parker and the impulsive parker:
- The commuter who reserves a desk for Tuesday through a tenant experience app on Sunday night can, in a nearly identical fashion, use an online reservations app to book their spot in a nearby garage and use a QR code to scan in.
- The commuter who impulsively decides to come into the office can pull up to a facility and use the QR code on posted signage to pay, or they can transact with the digital wallet in their mobile device.
Partnerships are the key to post-pandemic progress.
New commuter behavior and expectations aren’t strictly a byproduct of the pandemic; COVID-19 simply kicked it all into overdrive.
Understanding what commuters want, and what their behavior patterns are, is critical to winning in this new era of return-to-work.
To achieve that level of insight, partnerships and integrations are critical –
- Parking operators with their hardware and software companies, so they can collect data to understand commuter trends and maximize yield;
- And parking operators with asset owners, for integrations into tenant engagement apps that increase employee satisfaction.
As we always say at Ocra, a rising tide raises all ships.
Our centralized management platform for rates and inventory takes the pain out of adding new demand and transaction channels for parking operators, and gives those channel partners access to 100% of all available ecommerce inventory.