As we continue to sort through the social and economic impacts of COVID, and the changes wrought by the Delta variant, the question, “Where are you working?” has great relevance.
That's because many of the plans to get Americans back in the office are being rewritten because of the latest wave of this pandemic. But the question of why so many are adamant about staying home looms larger the longer this COVID scourge lasts.
Perhaps a visit across the pond sheds light on precisely what drives us to want to work out of our home offices, rather than return to our high rises, our stations, our studios, and our cubicles.
The Next Web took a gander at a new study by Hubble, a U.K.-based workspace firm that most definitely has a dog in this hunt. That said, 1,000+ employees from a wide variety of different companies took the survey. And more than three-fourths reported working in the big city – in this case, London.
There are many reasons why WFH works, but it turns out the #1 benefit – by far – is avoiding commuting time. Overall, nearly eight of every ten say the trip to and from the office or work space is the main benefit, followed distantly by financial savings, and spending more time with loved ones. Interestingly, other factors including improved productivity, childcare flexibility, and mental health are well down this list.
You have to believe a lot of Americans who work in major metros would be nodding their heads while looking over this chart. That's because many can no longer afford to live in big cities, and they've been forced to move many miles away from their place of employ.
In radio parlance, it's no mystery why the two most important dayparts since the invention of the car radio have the word “drive” in their names. That daily custom of fighting traffic to and from work has fueled profits for the radio industry for decades and decades.
Radio broadcasters don't just depend on the commute – they thrive on it. And it's true in both commercial and public radio. Consider that NPR's foundation is what they call the “tent pole shows” – Morning Edition and All Things Considered, their daily news magazines that reliably lead all other programs in the public radio system.
Both of these news institutions need sizable in-car listening to sustain membership, ratings, and brand reputation. And public radio stations far and wide are dependent on their incredible loyal audiences that tune every morning like clockwork.
Similarly, commercial radio's morning drive shows – personalities, teams, ensembles, music hosts – are also heavily dependent on traffic snarls, road closures, highway construction, and fender benders to optimize their listening levels. It's much the same in the afternoon. The more traffic, the more cume and quarter-hours – period.
We cannot control how the pandemic will meander through the rest of the year. And corporations will continue to be challenged to come up with fair policies for their workers – whether they continue to WFH, return to the office, or in many cases, opt for hybrid solutions.
But none of this will change the joyless, mind-numbing, time-consuming commutes that workers loathe about their jobs. But maybe radio can make a difference.
These data suggest that as workers return to the office – even reluctantly – they will be looking for any degree of fun and escape – an antidote to the boredom and aggravation of the daily commute.
I know of several hundred morning (and in some cases, afternoon) shows with the ability to fill that need. A combination of well-prepped content plus targeted messaging could help make the commute tolerable again.
And it's not just personality shows. Some commuters simply want to jam out with a favorite song. And the right tune on the right day at the right time can be a savior. Sometimes, its just a matter of hearing “La Grange,” “Uptown Funk,” “U Can't Touch This,” “You Shook Me All Night Long,” “On The Road Again,” “Walking On Sunshine,” “Radar Love,” or something else unexpected but well-timed to relieve that bumper-to-bumper monotony.
OK, maybe even “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
But is it even possible for radio to make the commute fun again?
Most smart broadcasters intuitively know precisely how annoying that morning or afternoon drive can be like, whether there's construction, blizzards, monsoons, or the other snags, hassles, and snafus that always seem to crop up on the ride to and from work.
After all, we've heard the stories again and again in focus groups. Great radio personalities can make commuters feel like they're riding along with them.
And wouldn't it be amazing if radio had the ability to supplement its on-air messages with something big and difficult to ignore on the way to and from the workplace? Yes, that's what digital billboards are designed to do. They're right outside the windshield and they can be modified to deliver a timely, in the moment message.
I know of very few radio stations with this type of tool. But I can think of one that has this ability. It's not licensed to New York, L.A., Chicago, Houston, or Miami.
It's in NEPA – that's Northeast Pennsylvania to those of you who haven't gotten out much lately. More specifically, it's in Scranton, and these boards belong to Rock 107 (WEZX/Times-Shamrock Communications). Programmer/afternoon driver (just two of his “hats”) Mark Hoover sent me this photo – the message went up minutes after the news broke about Charlie Watts' death (check the time/date stamp on the photo).
Owning the commute should be broadcast radio's goal as normalcy eventually returns, and more drivers take to the freeways once again on their weekday journeys to and from work.
And in the process, welcoming listeners back to radio.
Turn it up.