About the organisation
British Land owns and manages commercial property focused on London offices and retail around the UK. Our strategy is to provide places which meet the needs of our customers and respond to changing lifestyles, creating great environments both inside and outside our buildings and using our scale and place-making skills to enhance and enliven them.
Within our organisation, we have a Bike Network, created to make cycling an accessible mode of transport for any British Land employee.
What challenges were you trying to address?
One of the key challenges for us was how we were going to exit lockdown, particularly as a business that provides office space to our customers. We needed to start thinking about how we could safely repopulate our office assets, and a good place to start was with our own office.
Those who returned initially were all volunteers, and this gave us to opportunity to get the right procedures and facilities in place, trialling them ahead of a wider return to the office.
What goals or outcomes did British Land want to achieve?
To support our own employees to safely return to the office and also to trial those procedures, systems, and improvements to facilities at our own office, so we can support our customers as they return to our campuses.
Tell me about British Land’s ‘Bike Network’ scheme, why did you introduce cycling as a key commute option following COVID-19?
We carried out some research amongst our employees, which covered how they were feeling in lockdown, when and how often they thought they might feel comfortable returning to the office and whether they would change their journey to work after the pandemic. We found that whilst 11% regularly cycled to work prior to lockdown, an additional 10% were considering cycling all or part of their journey- potentially doubling our cyclists almost overnight.
This figure prompted a number of activities:
- There was a group investigating physical changes we could make to York House both in the short term (increased bike storage, additional drying facilities) and longer term (additional showers)
- Changes were made to our policies and Ride2Work scheme and we introduced CycleScheme to enable staff to buy a bike from a wider range of retailers and up to a higher value
- Our HR team reached out to a number of key cyclists across the business to form the new employee led Bike Network.
We had a kick-off meeting of 10 initial members in June, spent July agreeing our mission and objectives and then launched to the company in July. Our priorities are helping new cyclists with getting started in London, route planning, providing information on where to buy kit and equipment and generally breaking down the barriers to cycling. We’re also running a buddying scheme where members of the network meet new riders to help them try out their route for the first time. We sent out details of the new British Land Bike Network in internal comms inviting employees to join and outlining how it will help the company with this initial return to the office.
British Land has always had great cycle support facilities, but most of the people who rode to work pre-pandemic might be seen as hardened cyclists and therefore not ‘like me’. Our network includes a diverse group of colleagues, with newer riders alongside the old hands, and aims to foster a supportive and inclusive culture. Safety is our first priority; we have tried to break down any barriers to riding to work and already have a great new selection of colleagues starting to enjoy the best way to travel!— Roger Madelin CBE, Joint Head, Canada Water & Bike Network Co-Chair, British Land
Do you see the Bike Network scheme helping to transform the typical commute to work in the near future?
I think we have a unique opportunity to step change the number of people choosing to ride to work. It’s all about breaking down psychological barriers like fear of other vehicles on the roads or getting lost, as well as physical barriers like fitness and other barriers around inclusivity – there are still far fewer women who choose to cycle to work than men, for example. If we can get people over those hurdles to cycling, then it could create a habit for life. Of course, it won’t stick for everyone when the weather turns and the evenings get darker, but if even a proportion of those who try it continue to ride, that will be a great success.
How did you roll out your solution?
We've been going two months and it's not a difficult thing to set up, which makes it applicable for many other organisations. People underestimate how much knowledge and experience they've got within their own company, and the enthusiasm of everyone to get involved and do what they can to help has made it a lot easier.
We are applying for a small budget for our lending library of equipment and to run workshops on basic mechanics like changing an inner tube. We're also having discussions about sourcing some bikes that new cyclists can borrow to try out riding to work before needing to commit to spending hundreds of pounds. I actually lent my old bike to a colleague at work for six weeks to see if she liked riding to work. She's since bought her own bike and she absolutely loves it. Sometimes you just need to give people a low risk way of trying it out.
What have your results been?
The network has been met with significant enthusiasm – from existing cyclists keen to help those who are nervous, to new riders looking for tips on how to get started. We’ve grown to 20 members in the space of two weeks and that is with most employees still yet to return to the office.
The bike racks in our basement are starting to fill up and we anticipate that as more employees choose to return to the office in September, that is when we’ll be busiest. We’re trying to ensure that our information is up on the Intranet by then and network members are clear on what they can do to help and our short-term action plan is completed.
What advice would you give to other businesses looking to do something similar?
Use the knowledge and experience of the cyclists that are already within your organisation. They will remember when they first started riding to work, they'll know the specific frustrations with your office and the facilities there, as well as the wider frustrations of riding in London. Then you can work through each of those challenges and break them down and each of those little issues you resolve breaks down one barrier for someone choosing to ride. I think if you break down enough barriers for people and make it really easy, people realise it's a really liberating and exciting way to travel.