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Company location: when access to transport becomes strategic

03.12.2018

Employee mobility is still too often glossed over in companies’ location strategies. But faced with today’s mobility challenges, employer attitudes are beginning to change.

From freight transport to delivery cost-cutting, business travel and commutes, mobility is vital for the day-to-day running of companies, which need to be seamlessly connected with their surroundings wherever they operate. For companies to develop successfully, choosing the right location is a strategic challenge. But it can be difficult to reduce the logistical hurdles hindering employee mobility.

A secondary criterion for choosing location

Companies in the manufacturing, wholesale, logistics and transport industries still see employee mobility as a secondary criterion in their location strategy. For economic and organisational reasons, these companies tend to prefer locations in suburban areas, prioritising accessibility to infrastructure such as motorways, dual carriageways and airports. Proximity to sub-contractors and the price and availability of land are some of the main criteria. Suburban locations meet the needs of companies that require a great deal of space and want the flexibility to expand – all for a much lower price than in areas closer to large cities.

Hiring problems

However, these outlying locations can be difficult to get to using public transport, which is problematic at a time when more and more employees want to live in city centres. “Employee mobility is often not really taken into account in location strategies, since companies are used to assuming that employees will be able to get to work by car,” explains Patricia Lejoux, a researcher at the University of Lyon’s Laboratoire Aménagement Economie Transport. “It’s only once they’ve set up that companies are actually confronted with their employees’ mobility problems. They then realise that they are operating in sparsely populated suburban areas and that their labour pool is quite large, meaning that commutes can be long for employees. They can quickly find themselves faced with hiring and turnover problems because they didn’t factor in these issues from the beginning.”

Growing awareness

The mobility problems can be such that some employees resign or look for new jobs. “For the Aéroville project (the shopping centre at Charles de Gaulle airport near Paris), a recruitment campaign over six months resulted in the hiring of 4,000 people. Four months later, half of them had left, mainly due to mobility difficulties,” says Carole Uzan, project manager in urban planning, transport systems, land planning and architecture at the Val d’Oise Chamber of Commerce and Industry and responsible for the Paris airports mobility plan.

From difficulties in hiring to late arrivals, accidents, tiredness and stress, problems with employee mobility can keep businesses from running smoothly. The good news is that awareness of the issue is growing. “Companies are now taking employee mobility into account before deciding on a location, since otherwise they have trouble hiring,” explains Carole Uzan.

Emerging solutions

The days of shuttles travelling from village to village to pick up manufacturing employees are long gone. But employers are striving to find other solutions, such as considering access to public transport beforehand, setting up carpooling schemes, taking part in inter‑company travel plans, recruiting locally, and contributing to public transport costs. “Some companies are even offering housing near the workplace for employees before moving to a site,” says Carole Uzan.

Working from home: a solution for the future ?

Of all these potential solutions for companies to keep their ideal location without compromising on employee well-being, the most effective seems to be working from home. “Companies which were initially reluctant to adopt remote working policies are now giving in, purely to retain their employees,” comments Carole Uzan. “They don’t really have much choice. But, even though working from home is currently a last resort, I am convinced that in 20 years or so it will be a widespread practice. There will be fewer offices, and companies will make significant savings.” In addition, employees working from home tend to be more productive.

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