We have around 6500 employees at Osterley each day. In the summer between 8-10% of them cycle to and from work,” Nick Peers, transport manager at Sky’s media complex in west London, explains over a coffee at the cafe in its newest studio. The stats for Sky’s cycling workforce are up from just 2% in 2006 and continuing to grow as the company does.
It may still seem a little on the low side, but for a firm based on one of the UK’s busiest metropolitan roadways and employing staff from across the south east of England it’s relatively ‘unbelievable Jeff’.
As Peers explains more about the global media giant’s commitment to encouraging more staff to cycle we’re distracted by the floor-to-ceiling screens above the reception area broadcasting rolling news of the day’s events in the latest stage of the Tour de France. “We actually had the guys from Team Sky here for a presentation recently,” he adds, showing some images of the event on his phone. “The whole place came out to welcome them.”
It soon becomes clear that there’s been a bit of a push at Sky to get more than just Chris Froome and his teammates pedalling.
As we visit the on-site Halfords store, parts and repair shop, Norbert, one of three mechanics working there, takes time out from upgrading a sports presenter’s Cannondale to show us some of the facilities on offer to cyclists. There are three huge bike racks on the campus, one of which stretches 300m alongside the ultra-modern Central studios. In all, this workspace offers 700 bike stands, 800 lockers and 90 showers – recently upgraded with added drying rooms for wet cycling wear.
“We mainly get punctures to fix here,” Norbert tells us back at the workshop. “After that, it’s replacing brakes, upgrading gears and servicing. We have plenty to do every day, plus the company offers free cycle maintenance to staff and discounts on bikes and parts.”
“Having cyclists at boardroom level who wanted to promote it and encourage a healthier, fitter team was a key factor”
Of course, not everyone at the studios has arrived with bicycle clips. The personalised EH number plate on a gleaming Bentley belonging to a soon-to-be-on-air boxing promoter makes for quite a contrast to the rows of bikes beside it, ridden by those working behind the cameras and elsewhere on the expanding site.
“The decision to invest more in cycling came from both ends of the company hierarchy,” Peers says. “Having cyclists at boardroom level who wanted to promote it and encourage a healthier, fitter team was a key factor but it was coupled with a growing number of staff choosing to commute by bike.”
The facilities are distributed across the various buildings on the site, ensuring staff have a place to park, shower and change close to their own office or studio, and Sky’s procycling approach to the workplace has led to it being commended in a new British Council for Offices (BCO) report into the cycling habits of office users and ongoing evolution of cycling facilities for employees.
Alongside Sky in the report came the Quorum Business Park in Newcastle – home to Tesco Bank, Balfour Beatty and Greggs among others – where 6000 people are employed with access to 688 cycle racks, 105 showers and 500-plus lockers.
Other workplaces to earn BCO mentions include Central St Giles in London (where tenants include NBC Universal, Google and PR company Burson–Marsteller) with a daily population of 3500 employees, plus visitors, which has increased its bike space capacity to 450 due to occupier demand. One other striking example of a firm that likes to ‘think bike’ is the Royal Bank of Scotland HQ in Edinburgh. RBS has been awarded a Cycling Scotland Cycle Friendly Employer Award for its drive to actively encourage cycling to and from the office. The bank’s bosses provide 155 racks, 35 showers, 638 lockers, two drying areas and a bike hire scheme – meeting the demands of an RBS bicycle user group, which has seen its membership rise from less than 100 in 2013 to nearly 700 by the first quarter of 2017.
Tishman Speyer, the developers of Grade A office development, Verde SW1, based in Victoria, has also aimed to meet the needs of cycle commuters, including storage for 400 bikes, plus 40 spaces for folding bikes, 40 showers, 400 lockers, and changing facilities. Pret-A-Manger currently has both office and retail space in the high-spec location.
Gordon Stewart is a workplace volunteer in Glasgow, encouraging and inspiring his colleagues to cycle to and from work
“I started working with NHS National Services Scotland three years ago now. I was always a cycle commuter and this new job allowed me to maintain that. I loved inspiring people in my work to get active and became a Sustrans workplace volunteer. A couple of months into my role I successfully applied for funding for a pool bike, which was matched by my director to give us two bikes for staff use. Now colleagues can check the bike out for a ride whenever they’re free, which has helped to encourage even more people to take up cycling and start commuting to work by bike. More recently, a Sustransfunded Cycle Ride Leader course has allowed myself and another colleague to become Lunchtime Social Cycle ride leaders.
“Our building has a Health Promotion Group, this summer we’ve taken groups out for a bike ride over lunchtime, we have secure bike parking, shower and locker facilities and, more recently, drying facilities too. We’ve recently written to the council to request that the one-way street behind our building is given a contraflow for bikes, this has been adopted and will soon be implemented.”
Thanks partly to business investment the number of commuter cyclists is rising. Over a third of the 3500 office workers surveyed for the BCO study had taken up cycling to work in the past two years. Of those that do, 71% say it’s for health reasons, 62% for enjoyment and 51% because it is cheaper. The study found that one in five workers prefer cycling as it offers them ‘thinking time’.
In April 2017, the Department for Transport stated its aim to double the number of cycling stages, defined as a change in the form of transport as part of a longer “trip” (for example cycling to the train station before catching a train), from 0.8 billion stages in 2013 to 1.6 billion by 2025.
Not every firm is following the example set by the likes of Sky. The same BCO report reveals how ‘insufficient facilities’ puts 38% of workers off the idea of cycling into work, while poor cycling routes (21%) and lengthy or dangerous commutes (40%) force many staff to take the car, bus or train instead.
One way workplaces can put more bums on saddles is to go further than adopting a ‘build it and they will come’ approach. The National Health Service is making in-roads into developing a cycle culture by providing more than just a place to park and shower. “Our newly built Queen Elizabeth University Hospital and Royal Hospital for Children in Greater Glasgow have extensive cycling facilities and parking to accommodate in excess of 600 bicycles,” says Katharine Brough, travel plan and systems manager for NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde (NHSGGC). “To further encourage staff to cycle more often and consider alternative transport, NHSGGC also provides a mileage rate of 20p per mile for staff undertaking business journeys by bike.”
The incentive scheme has raised bike usage among staff and earned NHSGGC hospitals a Cycle Friendly Employer Award. “Cycling site maps are available to staff - including details on safe locations for cycle parking, on-site lockers and shower facilities as well as route info. Staff can access bike safety checks too.”
David Monaghan founded the Bike Users’ Group at The Royal Bank of Scotland HQ in Gogarburn
“In 2013 I got enough people together to get a ‘critical mass’ and begin a bike users’ group - today we have nearly 750 members.
“We have a weekly newsletter, online discussion forum and visits from bike mechanics. I count the bikes in our bike store every week and use this data to support evidence-based negotiations with our facilities management team about what we need to provide. This has led to us installing more bike parking, a second set of male and female changing rooms with showers, plus a second drying room. We’ve added several hundred more lockers, installed a bike repair station and visitor bike parking, while the bank’s HR policy has changed to cover expense for business cycling.
“The bank has also funded a pilot ‘pool bike’ scheme using nextbike (nextbike. co.uk) – we’re in the process of implementing our own self-managed scheme with 15 upcycled ex-Royal Mail bikes – through project budgets, innovation budgets and environmental budgets, basically anywhere that the person I was nagging could find the money!
“Our CEO is an enthusiastic cyclist, and he lends his support to events like the bank’s London to Edinburgh rides and the STV Children’s Appeal ride we’re doing this year, both of which raise the profile of cycling among colleagues. This winning combination of data-based lobbying on my part and open-minded support from colleagues in our facilities team, HR and elsewhere has given us outstanding provision for people who ride their bikes.
Together it’s reduced pressure on the limited car parking on site and led to physical and mental health and wellbeing benefits for group users. It’s also led to Cycling Scotland awarding us a Cycle Friendly Employer certification. This gave the impetus to get the final few tweaks to the facilities to take things from just good to really great.”
“Cycling provision is now as important as superstructure, lifts, flooring and mechanical and electrical services”
The brains behind the BCO study insist that only by getting a blend of quality cycling infrastructure and incentives will the growth continue.
“Cycling provision is becoming an accepted, integral component of a Grade A office specification,” says Neil Webster, director at Remit Consulting – office and real estate specialist who carried out the BCO survey and who investigates new ways of improving facilities. “Five years ago it was more of an afterthought, but cycling provision is now as important as superstructure, lifts, flooring and mechanical and electrical services.
“The next step is less about quantity (number of cycle spaces, showers, lockers and so on), but more one of quality. Things that seem like minor details, such as secure and separate male and female drying areas, differentiated male and female changing facilities and towel provision add to the quality on offer.”
Bike stands need to accommodate a range of bikes from foldable to larger electric/Dutch-style, and provide security from an access as well as individual locking perspective. Lockers should also allow users to store enough garments for their weekly commute.
“The small things make a big difference,” says Webster, citing the new build at Argent’s Kings Cross, London. “Care was taken to ensure that changing areas have sufficient counter space with access to mirrors with convenient plug sockets.”
At the Quorum Business Park, in Newcastle, there’s a range of different parking; toast racks, covered shelters, covered racks, cycle bins and a PIN-access shelter. Plus there’s a commuter centre and monthly cycle hub, as well as a bike week breakfast.
“If there needs to be a ‘push’ to promote a culture of cycling then this can be achieved by building a sense of community, having active champions and rewarding those employees that actively commute, whether that be via bike or foot or within the building through use of stairs over the lift,” adds Webster.
Offering cycle maintenance, discounts on bikes and cycle parts, advice on travel routes and guides, bicycle user groups and even free towel provision at shower facilities does encourage more staff to cycle – while creating Cycle User Groups at the workplace has been shown to be a very effective way of building internal support to influence management.
If you’re looking to build better bike facilities at your office, Transport for London’s Cycling Workplaces programme or Sustrans’ workplace travel planning offer advice to encourage change - and it’s always worth reminding your boss of the UK government’s Cycle to Work scheme, which allows employers to loan cycles and safety equipment to employees as a tax-free benefit.
Is your office bike friendly or does your employer need to up their cycling game – let us know, email us at email@example.com ■