3 min read June 2023 — Invest: spoke with Ed Fleischmann, CEO and managing director of leading digital platform for payments and services Edenred USA, to discuss how hybrid work has transformed not only the office culture but the very dynamics of Downtown Boston. He also discussed how public transit will be a key asset to change that. “Companies are taking a more comprehensive view of employees and how they can adapt to this shifting hybrid landscape,” he said.
What have been your key takeaways from the past year?
We work in all 50 states and provide services throughout the country. Our headquarters are in Boston so our entire service springs from right here. We have excellent clients in Boston and adapt our offerings depending on the strengths of various markets. Universities are important clients in Boston, such as Harvard University. We also have Boston Beer Company, which makes Sam Adams along with New Balance. Healthcare and biotech are also booming in Boston, which is often dubbed as the New Silicon Valley. Many companies are moving to this area because of the thousands of square feet of lab space that is opening up. Blue Cross Blue Shield and Boston Medical Center have also been critical clients.
How is public transit becoming a top-of-mind concern for companies?
You hear a lot about public transit among executives. There are a lot of complaints about the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) but, overall, the public transit system in Boston is good when compared to other cities. It’s comprehensive in the way buses and commuter rails complement the subway. It is also easy to access and provides great coverage across the city. Boston is also very bike-friendly and walkable, which attracts more people to live in the city. The city has launched the Blue Bikes sharing program to increase access to this opportunity and it is getting more popular every day.
In terms of areas of opportunities, there are reliability issues that have sprung up and some infrastructure is outdated, so more investments will be needed to improve service quality overall. It’s a major topic for our governor to invest in and improve the MBTA. One of the major challenges in the city is road congestion, which is all the more reason to use public transit. This is especially true as more people are back working in the office.
What is the right balance for companies to accommodate a successful work from home and in-office strategy?
One of the major changes since the pandemic is the proliferation of hybrid work. Most likely, hybrid work is the new norm for the vast majority of office workers. What we’re seeing with clients around the country is that they are settling for two to three days in the office and one to two days remote. It’s about getting a balance of the benefits of working from home with the advantages of the office. But there is a cost to getting to work with gas mileage, parking and expenses like lunch. That was a discussion at a recent Chamber of Commerce meeting and how to bring people back to the Downtown area. There was a study that showed mobile device activity Downtown is at 52% compared to pre-pandemic, which is evidence that fewer people are going there. This can impact the culture of companies and the opportunities to interact. There’s also a negative impact on the restaurants and shops Downtown that rely on foot traffic and are struggling because of the lower commuter traffic. The city is looking at new ways to bring people back. Companies are also finding new benefits they can provide employees on site, including enhanced rewards and recognition. Mental wellness benefits are growing within many companies, including great services like pet care and free meals. Companies are taking a more comprehensive view of employees and how they can adapt to this shifting hybrid landscape.
How is technology impacting Edenred’s services?
I think there are a lot of great possibilities for AI in terms of how people get to work and making that more efficient. The hybrid model makes the transit situation a bit more complex because there isn’t as much of a reliance on transit. We are trying to facilitate as much as possible by giving employees rideshare and bike share programs and providing options for them to get into work. New York City has adopted a tap-and-go mobile transit pass that can be used at any time for any trip, and that is an idea that would be ideal in Boston. The transit industry still needs to adapt to the speed of technology to make their services more accessible and efficient for riders and that is definitely in their long-term agenda.
Besides expanding in the mobility solutions space through enhanced technologies, Edenred is also expanding its offerings into the employee engagement market, which is a very technological market with a variety of integrations app to app to better user experience. Our company recently acquired 100% of the capital of Reward Gateway, a leading platform in employee engagement, with a strong presence in the United States. Reward Gateway offers a suite of modules ranging from employee discount offers and rewards and recognition solutions to wellness solutions.
Are there any regulations or legislation that you are tracking?
At the federal level, we’ve been actively supporting legislation in Congress for bike benefits. There are tax incentives in the United States for public transit and parking, so when commuting to work you don’t pay taxes for up to $300, which is a great incentive for workers that we support. And since the pandemic, more people are using bikes and scooters to get to work but they are not pre-taxed. This legislation has been written to include bike expenses as a pre-tax benefit. There is another idea we’re looking at with meal benefits, which are popular in Europe and South America. With these benefits there are no taxes up to a certain amount for dining out. Similar subsidies for public transit are also a big discussion point for the business community as we continue getting people back Downtown.
Environmental, social and governance (ESG) is also a hot topic in Boston. We’re working on creating policies that accommodate reducing greenhouse gas emissions locally and nationally. This is a great opportunity for companies in terms of how they can grow as well as get workers to turn to green commuting options which helps our planet be a cleaner and safer place to live and work.
Lastly, we take diversity very seriously. Our employees come from all backgrounds and nationalities, which is a great asset to our business. We support legislation regarding diversity as we want to create a workplace that acknowledges the individual strengths of each employee and the potential they bring. That’s the secret to our successful, thriving workplace and fair work culture.
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