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How COVID-19 Is Changing Office Parking Management

For as long as most property professionals can remember office parking has been a prickly issue. It is hotly sought after by employees but ultimately costly to procure and difficult to manage for owners and landlords. I’m sure most of us have sat through multiple meetings which have been hijacked by employee parking concerns. The problems are the same the world over. “Who parked in my space? Why is there never any available space? Why can’t we park in the empty spaces?”

Technology has been relatively slow to address the parking issue. Over the years, some companies have taken the plunge and invested in costly parking barriers and gates to try to bring a semblance of control to their parking chaos. However, these only solve part of the problem. They can limit access to car parks, but they can’t control what is happening within them.

Software is changing this. As someone who was always deeply frustrated by inefficient parking management, it’s been fantastic to play a pioneering role in the fledgling employee parking management software sector over the last few years. Employee parking management solutions leverage the power of software to solve companies parking problems. Think automated parking management, algorithm-driven allocation, real-time occupancy tracking, powerful data, and reporting.

With the purpose of improving mobility and ultimately helping companies reduce their carbon footprint, exciting start-ups are gaining serious traction. In our first 18 months at ParkingOffice.io, we signed up four Fortune 500 clients with no marketing budget and one salesperson. Finally, the solutions that companies have been crying out for are emerging.

However, while the initial focus was on driving environmental efficiencies and decreasing wasted real-estate, the coronavirus has brought our emerging sector into sharp focus for companies but because of a totally different reason—employee safety.

The impact of COVID-19 on commuting?

To understand the new reality for building managers, we must first understand the direction in which the world was heading. While I think most real estate professionals recognize that employee parking was always going to be needed by certain companies, the volume was certainly reducing.

A keener focus on the environment and sustainability was leading people to reflect on their travel choices, while governments around the world continued to invest in public transport to make it easier for people to leave their cars at home. Employee parking was increasingly being seen as a perk by certain centrally based companies, a nice-to-have, a way of attracting and retaining talent. However, that world is gone, and we’ll never return to the way things were. 

The make-up of our offices has been altered for good by COVID-19. Many corporate leaders have been surprised by the effectiveness of working from home. I think most would admit that although they might not be keen on work from home as the new status-quo, allowing staff to work from home a day or two a week will become the new normal. Meanwhile, as offices start to open back up, the number of staff working from home will be even higher as employers are staggering teams in phases back into the workplace.

A year ago, nobody could have predicted that world leaders would renounce public transport and tell people to avoid it unless completely necessary. However, this is exactly what has happened as a result of the pandemic. We are now in uncharted territories, and as economies prepare to emerge from lockdowns and live side by side with the virus, we must reimagine how people are getting to and from the office. For a lot of companies, parking was already a pressure point. Occupancy difficulties were commonplace, and now they’ll have the added challenge of increased parking demand. Unfortunately though, parking spaces don’t grow on trees, and sourcing additional spaces is incredibly difficult and costly.

These three issues pose a totally new challenge for the real estate community. Firstly, as we slowly transition back to a more fluid form of office working, how can companies keep a track of who will be in the office and on what days? Secondly, and most importantly, in a more flexible working environment where safety is paramount, how can employers track and manage the parking needs of staff who are due to be in the office? Finally, how can companies ensure they have enough parking spaces to go around?

The traditional approach of assigning parking spaces based on seniority just won’t work anymore. What’s the point in having one parking space solely for the use of a key member of staff if that person is working from home a couple of days a week? Meanwhile, operating on a first-come, first-serve policy won’t work either, employees need certainty around parking availability to ensure they make the most responsible commuting decisions.

How do we minimize risk for employees while they commute?

The good news is that thanks to the blossoming employee parking management sector, the features you need to manage your ever-changing workplace are only a few clicks away. Employee parking solutions have been built to cater for flexible workforces. They can automatically manage and allocate thousands of parking requests in milliseconds, and the best solutions can use AI (artificial intelligence) to increase parking availability by up to forty percent. Technology offers employers many options for optimizing parking, but knowing which features are most compatible with for individual business needs is vital for decision makers.

Key features in parking technology

Availability Booster – This is the magic dust which many companies crave. Think of it like hotdesking for parking spaces. Using software to monitor who is due to be in the office and when, this automatically allocates spare spaces to staff in need. No longer does the director’s space need to lie idle when he is working from home for the next week.

Booking Management – Manually tracking who is due to be in on any given day and their parking needs can be exhausting. I’ve lost count of the amount of hard-working people who are needlessly pouring hours into managing complex group chats and Excel sheets. Simply allow your staff to book parking for the days they’d like to come to the office.

Release Management – If you have key staff who you’d like to allocate parking to on default, make sure to find a parking management system with release management function. This will allow staff members to notify the software when they don’t plan on using the parking space, allowing it to be allocated elsewhere. 

Priority Allocation – Particularly important right now, this allows you to input the allocation criteria which matter most to your company. Then algorithms automatically prioritize parking allocations to at-risk staff members or those in need of closer proximity to the building.

Hardware Integrations This is key for companies with barriers and gates, particularly if you are looking to reduce the amount of surfaces employees touch. Integrate your software with existing hardware to ensure staff can enter seamlessly, using just their phones.

Real-Time Occupancy – Allowing employees to track if space has popped up at the last minute is key as they are planning journeys to and from the office. If they just need to pop in for an hour, let them keep an eye on spare spaces, and allow them to book spaces as they become available.

Data & Reporting – Knowing who is in your office and using what facilities is about to become more important than ever. Store a history of who was parked in which space at a specific time, and keep this information in a secure fashion, which can then be viewed in real-time or pulled whenever you need it.

Because of transportation complications and more people choosing to move to the suburbs rather than remain in dense urban areas, you are going to hear the industry talk about parking a lot more. The reopening of offices is great news for employees and economies. However, there is a responsibility on all of us to ensure that the transition back into a society in which COVID still exists is as seamless and risk-neutral for employees as possible. A strong employee parking solution will automate the management of the commuting headache for employees and employers in the medium-term, and moving forward, as we enter a post-COVID world, leave companies with the software they need to manage a move towards more sustainable transport options.

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