Working Well January 15, 2023

As one global travel company shows us, transit options just might help bring employees back to the office

During the height of the pandemic, Expedia moved its headquarters from Bellevue, Washington to Seattle. While they were changing locations, the whole world transformed.

Navigating these shifts while keeping their workforce satisfied called for a new commute program that offers employees a variety of choices. Here, Perkins&Will Director of Global Advisory Services Leigh Stringer talks to two leaders in Expedia’s real estate division about how the company is adapting to the challenges of the day.


Josh Khanna: Director of Real Estate Global Operations, Expedia Group

Scott Phillips: Real Estate and Facilities Lead, Americas, Expedia Group

Leigh Stringer, Moderator: Director of Global Advisory Services, Perkins&Will

Why did Expedia set up a commute program to help employees broaden their transit options?

Josh Khanna: Expedia did not need a commute program until we moved from downtown Bellevue to the Interbay neighborhood of Seattle, which is less-well-connected than downtown Bellevue. Two things happened—and this was all pre-COVID:

One, we realized that we got ourselves into a bit of a bind in Bellevue. We used to give employees an ORCA pass, which is a transit pass for the Puget Sound region, or we offered a subsidized monthly parking pass. We’d maxed out the parking in the couple of buildings where we had office space and we were looking at third-party vendors and providers. When we left Bellevue, we were probably the largest user of parking in the city. Our people got very used to that. Meanwhile, there would be less parking available in Seattle, so we recognized that we needed help transitioning our people’s thinking about how they were getting to work.

Two, the Seattle Department of Transportation told us that we had to provide a shuttle program. We were the first corporate client that got told that. The others had already done it on their own—Google, Facebook, Amazon, et cetera. And our campus is outside of downtown, which is the big transit hub, so people can get to downtown Seattle, but then what do they do to get to Interbay?

That’s when we said, “You know what, we need help.” So Nelson\Nygaard came in and started recalibrating expectations for us on what choices we could offer our staff. There’s a lot of work on the technology side, on the operations side, and on the listening side to create viable employee commute options. And since we’ve been recovering from the pandemic—we had a lot of people leave, we had a lot of new people join—we had to reevaluate what made sense in today’s day and age.

Scott Phillips: The change management piece is critical to the success of the commute program. And that happens at a grassroots level. Someone has to help employees understand what their options are. We have a multifaceted commute program and options around that are affected not just by where somebody lives, but what time of day they’re commuting, and which days—and that may vary from day-to-day, week to week. So having the resources to  help people navigate through those options is where we’ve seen  huge value and benefit to our employees.

What are the various commute options and what are the incentives?

JK: To begin with, we have daily parking. And there’s tons of parking available given hybrid working and lower office attendance—we have about 2,400  parking stalls and we charge $10 a day if you’re coming in as a single occupant vehicle. If you carpool or vanpool, parking is free and you get “commute cash,” which is added to your paycheck. We also have dynamic carpooling, where you can put a word out in your neighborhood and others can respond. Another incentive we add on is that you get a Wi-Fi hotspot that gives you connectivity as you’re commuting via carpool so you can work or whatever. We also give commute cash if you bike in or if you take transit in. If you use the last-mile shuttle from downtown, however, we don’t give you cash for that—but you get Wi-Fi and the shuttle is free. The things you do that are community based, like carpooling, vanpooling, cycling, or taking transit, you actually get incentivized to do. We spent a lot of time educating people on what the choices look like and how they can navigate using the programs.

In general, how has the reception been? Are people enjoying the new options? Do they feel like they have more choices and more freedom in terms of how they get to work?

JK: By and large, people understand and appreciate that we’ve been very transparent about the process. It’s not just that there are choices, but there is transparency about why one is a preferred choice over another—that it’s for a common collective good. And then there’s our commute team, which is there to answer questions and get stuff resolved. I think that’s what people want, really. It’s that check-in and that one-on-one consult which I think is invaluable.

SP: It’s about  tailoring the system to individual needs. We get a lot of questions, for example, around offering a shuttle that’s a little bit later in this particular location for parents that are dropping kids off for school. Obviously, we can’t always do that, so how we’ve responded to that is going back to this notion of being very transparent and being very intentional about explaining how the shuttle program is meant to supplement where transit options do not exist or aren’t as robust. We’re not trying to develop shuttles across the entire city. We’re trying to supplement where transit doesn’t exist, and in a way that corresponds to where our employees need it. It’s a very data-driven approach.

You've mentioned that there is a technology component to this—you just mentioned data—but there's also a customer service aspect. How do those systems function together?

JK: We use Luum as our primary commute management software program. Our commute team does both the data analytics and the customer service. At some point, maybe data is bigger and the customer services and support component is less, but definitely from return-to-office to now, customer services had to play a pretty large role in all of this.

LS: It seems like the flexibility built into the commute program is an important factor of its success.

JK: We’ve found that flexibility is the need of the hour. Any program has to be agile because things change all the time, and investments in these programs are not small.

SP: It also has to be flexible with individual needs. One thing we hear with our shuttle program is the question, “What happens if there’s an emergency and I have to go home?” or, “What if I have a late meeting that occurs impromptu and the shuttle leaves?” We’ve paired the shuttle option with a guaranteed ride home program, so in many cases we’ll offer a Lyft or an Uber credit to help us to manage the unexpected.

Speaking of unexpected, who knew that hybrid work would become a new normal? How many days do you have people coming into the office?

JK: Oh, it really depends. We are very typical—our peak days are Tuesday through Thursday. We have asked people to come in two to three days a week. There’s a die-hard group of individuals that come in five days a week, by the way, but they tend to live closer by, and they tend to bike or walk, so it’s an easy commute.