Ask Hackaday: Would A Scooter Get You Back To The Office?

So we’re two plus years into the pandemic at this point. Are you still working from home in the most comfortable clothes ever sewn? We figure that of the lot of you who said goodbye to that drab, tiled carpet in 2020, most have probably heard rumblings about returning to the office. And probably a good portion have at least been forced into a hybrid schedule.

Lots of companies would love to see their employees once again milling about all those glass and steel observation tanks office buildings they pay so much for. And while some are likely just forcing employees to come back, others are offering incentives, such as Google. The tech giant recently partnered with electric scooter manufacturer Unagi to provide a “Ride Scoot” program designed to lure many of Google’s US-based employees back to those brightly-colored code playgrounds they call offices with a fun mode of private transportation. The plan is to offer a full reimbursement of the monthly subscription fee for Unagi’s Model One folding scooter, which retails for $990.

The subscription is normally $49 a month plus a one-time $50 sign-up fee, but this amount will be slightly discounted (and waived) for eligible Google employees. There is one caveat to the system: an employee must use the scooter for a minimum of nine commutes to the office per month, although Google says they’re gonna be a bro about it and use the honor system.

I’d Rather Drive

I’m not sure that a reimbursed ride to work is that much of a perk. It does coincide nicely with rollercoaster gas prices, but I would assume that many residents of the cities where Google is implementing the Ride Scoot program tend use mass transportation to get to to the office. (Although I wouldn’t be surprised if the average cost of mass transit is also rising.) I live in a car-centric town that houses plenty of Google Fiber employees, and am not surprised to see that they left it off the list of eligible locations, most of which are on the west coast. I would call out the temperate climate of the cities on the list, except that it includes NYC. Of course, scooters make sense there for other reasons.

Image via Twitter

Some other companies are offering the standard stuff you’d expect to see: meal programs, fuel and transportation reimbursement, and childcare stipends. Microsoft welcomed employees back with free food, and the cafeteria was filled to capacity. Not a great look given the ongoing pandemic, but it would be pretty unfair to give people a free lunch and force them to eat it alone at their desks.

If you’re still working from home, do you still love it? Are you secretly tired of it and miss your big desk and walls and going out to lunch, or just going someplace other than home to work? Do you kind of want to go back to the office, just not every day? You’re not alone. Personally, I don’t have an office to go to, but I wouldn’t mind having a place where I could keep my backup Kinesis Advantage, print and copy things quickly, and be free of the distractions of home.

Apple is telling people they have to be in the office specifically on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, which honestly sounds bad for morale. Why not Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday? No one wants to be in the office on Mondays or Fridays, anyway. That way, you gather enough people on site to have pure face-to-face meetings and presentations, but it’s easier for everyone to ease into the week. So what would it take to get you back to the office? Let us know in the comments.

75 thoughts on “Ask Hackaday: Would A Scooter Get You Back To The Office?

  1. No

    A. Privately owned e scooters are illegal to use in my country (UK).
    B. I am more productive and happier at home.
    C. Scooters are not an ideal transport method in a country where it rains half of the year.

      1. The difference being, sectors 1 and 2 produce all the material wealth, sector 3 distributes it, and sectors 4 and 5 consume it and make other people consume it in order to earn a living – hopefully for the purpose of developing and helping sectors 1…3 instead of just enriching themselves.

        1. Sectors 1-2-3 gets the technology, design and other kind of intellectual property from Sector 4. Without sector 4 you would live in north-korea digging with your bare hand…

          1. The irony here is sector two included “engineering industries” in their list.

            It seems to me they way these are presented, there would be considerable overlap between 2 and 4. Science research is of couse pretty solidly sector 4,

            But the “tech companies” themselves are simply communication & distribution companies (secor 3). They are just using research from sector 4 and equipment purchased from sector 2 to distribute their product.

          2. Engineering can mean technicians. Sector 4 is responsible for the design and sector 2 is the implementation.

            The problem with sectors 4,5 is that they’ve become pretty self-serving. For example, as the demand for STEM trained people is increasing, an increasing portion of the STEM educated people stay in academia to educate new people into STEM…

            And sector 5 also contains “pure services”, such as a professional video game player. Not tester – player.

      2. Yes, about 20% of workers are in the 4th/5th economic sector in an industrialized nation and could conceivably work from home. That percentage is probably higher for the visitors of this website.

        Are you making the argument that 20% of people are not productive according to your chosen definition? Great. thanks for the feedback I guess.

        1. It’s always apt to ask: what am I doing that supports the material requisites of hiring me? How is my work feeding back through the economy to replace the value that I’m consuming from it?

          That point of view is too often lost in the modern post-industrial society where instead of working to make wealth, you simply make money to buy wealth. There are many ways to make money rather than wealth.

      3. At this point, anybody who uses the term “Information Technology” is almost certainly full of crap – as is the author of that piece and the economists he learned from.

        Are the people who assemble the computer, the people who install the computers and associated networks, the people who design the software, and the people who write the software all in the same sector? They aren’t even remotely the same professions. Or, if you’re an idiot, you call them “information technology”.

        The person who came up with those sectors did so based on some hilariously naive world view. Even if those were the right boxes, there’s nothing saying people only fit in one at a time.

        And then to make matters worse, you go and assume that working from home limits a person’s capabilities to intellectual pursuits…. Try leaving a city someday.

    1. Well said. This whole time period has really shined a light on the waste of time, effort, and money companies spend on meetings, offices, and the whole admin complex that we’d gotten to see as necessary. It just isn’t, and real work still gets done, decisions made, and life is better.

  2. I wonder if Google has any data about the expected commute distances for their employees?

    But NO, a scooter would not interest me at all. My commute is about 7 miles, which makes for a reasonable half hour trip on a bicycle (which is my chosen method by a long shot). I do like that Google is trying to think “outside the box”, but thinking even further outside the literal box is to take a really hard look at how effective people are working at home versus in the office. Are face to face meetings any better than zoom meetings? Do meetings actually accomplish anything other than to make middle managers look like they are managing? But I digress.

  3. Nope. I’m happy with an unforced hybrid schedule. Sharing a small home with a significant other who also works from home gets a little claustrophobic, so I enjoy going in to see my coworkers two or three times a week.

    Maybe food and scooters works for the age 30 and under crowd, but flexibility and a healthy relationship with management is worth a lot more to me.

  4. Interesting. I know of a company that banned certain e-scooters from its campuses because of a fire in one of the buildings caused by an improperly modded/charged scooter in an office. All scooters are to be parked outside now.

  5. Prefer the option to work from home when there is no compelling reason to make the commute. Funny how so called “green” companies dont see the value is avoid commuting and big energy sucking office buildings.

    1. I thought it was interesting that when Marissa Mayer greatly reduced the “work from home” option when she took over Yahoo.

      You would have though fone of the early tech companies would have develope better work from home collaboration tools as opposed to “throwing in the towel”

  6. Maybe if it was a Tesla and not a scooter.
    Where I live(Montana) the distance(5+miles) and the temperature(-40) basically makes it impossible to use a scooter. The infrastructure isn’t really set up for scooters either.

    1. This. I have to be at the office, it’s the nature of my work. I have a hybrid, but if the company leased me a leaf or similar that’s the only alternative transportation I could use here in rainy cold Seattle.

      1. Couple days to a week most years. Sub-zero temps are very normal up here. We’re just now getting the snow off the ground. Scooters and bike really aren’t an option for 2/3rds of the year.

          1. Prospect Creek Camp, Alaska, got down to -80 Jan 23, 1971. The usually coldest place in the lower 48 is Mount Washington, New Hampshire. IIRC it also has the highest sustained wind speeds and held the record for the fastest wind gust ever measured (in 1934 at 231 MPH) until Cyclone Olivia hit a measured peak of 254 MPH in 1996.

    1. I’m still torn. The hybrid approach is good for my sanity at least. But nobody in the office is on my particular project – everybody I actually work with is still remote.

      No the scooter is not enticing. I already have a bike and don’t care to ride it in cold wet weather at rush hour vs SUVs running stop signs.

  7. Grown ups riding e-scooters … I can’t get over how ridiculous it is. If distance is less than 2 miles, walk. It will take less than half an hour, you aren’t aggravating everyone else on the sidewalk that is walking, and you don’t have to lug that dumb thing around inside the building. Even in the rain with an umbrella, it is not bad at all. Unless it is really, really miserable weather, then drive or take the bus, and in that case your scooty-puff Jr would be a bad choice anyway. If it is farther than that, ride a bicycle like a darn adult. Personal experience, blah blah but everyone that moans about the weather for walking or riding a bike has never actually tried it. It isn’t bad. Same “I would need a shower at work..” and all that other nonsense. Bring a clean shirt in your bag, problem solved.

    1. Hey the last and only time I rode I scooter I was definitely adult, and it was still fun, and actually reasonably practical (if rather too small for my giant feet) – way more nimble than a bicycle of comfortable commuting size. Just because you don’t like them, doesn’t mean the rest of us won’t have some fun with and get good use out of them given a chance (said as somebody who enjoys cycling, and did cycle through rain and snow to the train station for years)

      1. eh sorry. I have ridden one of course and they are fun indeed. And my opinion is just that. But I still don’t quite understand the use case: small distance one can just walk and not do all that stuff I mentioned. Longer distance ride a bike. Those aren’t perfect either, of course, but have the benefit of 100+ years of refinement to near perfection, are <$100 for a perfectly good used commuter bike, do not need to be charged, lugged up stairs at the destination, and are basically functional for another 100yrs with minimal maintenance, and what little maintenance there is was learned by me, by age 10. I already see ride-share scooters in the bushes, crammed in corners of the parking garage and otherwise littering the city. When an electric scooter battery craps out, the whole $1000 or so device goes into the landfill.

        1. Well at least with the scooters lugging them up the stairs is even an option, so you don’t have to hope that there’s somewhere to lock your bike up at every destination and also hope that it doesn’t get stolen.

          Don’t know what you mean by the whole device going into the landfill. Scooter batteries are pretty easy to replace if you’re confident enough in your repair abilities to keep a bicycle working for a 100 years. Those have way more moving parts to fail than a scooter does.

          Small distance to you is 2 miles, good for you. Not all of us have so much time to kill that we want to spend 30 minutes walking instead of 5 minutes riding.

          Not everyone aspires to be constantly ready for a triathlon as some self-evident virtue. Or is being smug and casting derision on other forms of transport a secret requirement to be a bicycle commuter?

          1. Wheels trip on obstacles about the size of their radius, guaranteed. Down to half R, not going to be fun.

            24 mph on a device with a wheel radius of under 10 cm is going to have some exciting moments.

          2. If people can get around Manhattan on skateboard wheels then a 10cm radius wheel is massive.

            And where the heck are you biking that’s littered with 10cm? Is your commute a mountain bike trail?

          3. Well, I don’t think 10cm bumps are common, either, but I know I’ve nailed some very jarring bumps on my road bike with ~35cm radius wheels. I certainly would not want to be hitting that stuff at high speed on a scooter with tiny wheels.

          4. Clyde:
            How fast does the average skateboard in Manhattan go?
            How often does the average skateboarder in Manhattan faceplant?
            What is the average age of Manhattan skateboarders?

            Report back to us from the ER…

            Small wheels suck. Skateboards trip on irregular joints between sidewalk sections.
            Sure Tony Hawk hops over them, but he’s 100% focused on the pavement, not traffic.

            24mph is enough energy to really hurt.

            Manhattan sure isn’t the environment for 24mph electric scooters. Too many people (moving obstacles much taller then 10cm).

            At least they hear my pulsejet powered one coming, plus larger wheels.

  8. I moved out of the city to work remotely full time over two years ago, and I’m not interested in returning under any circumstances. Office jobs don’t need physical presence and interactions, because if they did then managers wouldn’t be putting doors and blinds over the entrances to their private offices, and it would be standard policy for these companies to pay for all of the time spent commuting, not just special trips.

    The cat is out of the bag at this point, and I don’t think it will be possible to revitalize pre-COVID commuter and office culture. Not when you have loads of people still scared and insisting on wearing masks even after officials are giving the all clear. And certainly not as long as China adheres to a zero COVID policy, and continues to shut down large cities in response.

    1. I dont think anyone is scared of covid this late, no need to make exuses. But I totaly agree that if they want us in the office they should pay for each time (start counting the 8 hours from the time you are out of your house and pay for gas and stuff) and have the data to know if in a specific day the emloyee is actually needed in the office. When I’m not doing anything for an entire day I dont need to be in the office ;)

    2. “it would be standard policy for these companies to pay for all of the time spent commuting”

      Managers want workers at the Office, workers want to spend more time with their family and do not waste 20% of their working time in transports.

      Working from home has no commuting. I can start working in a pyjama and without a shower.

  9. Not everyone could work from home. The worldview presented forgets that not much would happen if everyone had stayed home. No groceries, no grocery delivery, no amazon, no farming, not much manufacturing, and so on. The articles all talk about “everyone” but that just reflects the people staying home.

    And now everyone’s so eager to stay home forever. But where do the people who’d worked for themselves and badly wanted to get out of the house, all those co-working spaces and coffee shops, fit in?

    I also remember an article early in the pandemic, a rarity, someone stuck at home with her husband and two kids in a small space. At least she couod work from home, but I doubt she wants it to last.

    Not everyone can be like the neighbor who bought a bigger house up the street during the pandemic, or people buying sheds to create a workspace in the backyard.

    And not everyone commuted by car.

    1. The world is still in the ‘circle jerk’ stage of work from home.

      The problem is that not everyone _can_ work from home. It takes self discipline etc, plus an appropriate job.

      But for now, all the clueless, broken metric, bosses are telling each other how good they’ve been at managing remote workers. Many of who have gotten exactly nothing done sense they’ve been working from home.

      Estimate the % of middle managers that are clueful enough to know who their good workers are and the % of good workers those PHBs have. (IMHO about 30% and 10% respectively).

      Consider the clueless leading the dumb and lazy:
      Are their TPS reports getting done? (likely yes)
      Is any actual work getting done? (likely no)
      Is this a change? (likely no)

      How long can they keep faking it? I’d guess it depends on how obvious failure is. But some of these places (cough, government work, cough) have been rolling along for decades faking it IN the office while getting nothing done, so YMMV.

      For those decades, they did have PHB self delusion though. Face time was a metric and they (like everybody else) did get what they managed for.

    2. People unsatisfied with their home life using the office as an escape? That does not mean the solution to the problem is going back to the old ways.

      Two years of restrictions is a long time, and during that time many people were forced out of their homes and/or jobs, so for them there is no way to return to the pre-COVID normal. Some took that as an opportunity to try a new career or improve their living situation, while others just complained and begged for money to keep the system going. You seem to be a little jealous of the former, but you were given the same stimulus checks and the same job market as the rest of us, and we were all told that we were entering a new normal. Why did you stay put?

      When opportunity knocks at your door, do you answer it or tell it to bugger off?

  10. It is now economic silliness to keep office buildings for white collar workers.

    Skyscrapers? Office buildings? They were the white collar Factories of the 20th century.

    But in the 21st century, the Factory left the building. The building is no longer needed because the Factory is no longer there.

    The the door to the Factory is the laptop.

    The Factory floor is the datacenter. The Applications are the machines in the Factory used by the humans to transform some digital material into some product to be sold.

    The Factory model always wins as it has since the dawn of Industrialization.

    Now, the Factory no longer requires a building. Those who pay for the unnecessary building are reckless wasters of money.

    Anyone who wants to spend money paying for a building (plus operating costs), just to have workers come in, go to a cube, open their laptops to get on the Factory floor, work with their Apps in the Factory, and then close their laptops and go home, is a fool. All of that money is wasted by both company and worker.

    And, any employee who wants to come to a building to work is being subsidized for their preference – a subsidy not provided to those that want to stay home. Total cost of subsidy per person = rent / #ofpeople who want to come in.

    Are there valid needs to get together? Yes – training, complex meetings, interviews, customer meetings to name a few.

    But those do not require large footprints or even permanency – just rent the floor footprint you need – on demand. Or, keep a very small footprint somewhere in a cheap part of town for those functions.

    Any requirement to return to the old 20th century office building must be justified by showing business value (not opinions) vs the cost of rent + operations.

    1. I think you would be suprised just how often being able to talk through a problem with somebody that knows the lay of the land idly in a tea-break, or yell across the office for Raymond, the master of this one bit of esoteric stuff nobody else quite gets, and doesn’t have to work with enough to really learn is advantageous. Not to mention all the passive learning any new hire will do, probably without even realising it by observation.

      Bit of working from home certainly can have merits, and it is basically the same method as the only way to work across the globe – use the internet and postal services for almost, if not everything – really doesn’t matter if either of you are in the office or sat in bed at home there…

      But I still can’t see the death of a physical office being worthwhile any time soon, if ever.

    2. “Anyone who wants to spend money paying for a building (plus operating costs), just to have workers come in, go to a cube, open their laptops to get on the Factory floor, work with their Apps in the Factory, and then close their laptops and go home, is a fool. ”

      Also, companies have been making workplaces increasingly employee-hostile for years now.

      For example, open-plan offices where nobody can think or concentrate because of all the noise. Or office schemes where nobody has a desk of their own, but just grabs whatever desk is available when they arrive in the morning, and probably sit elsewhere the next time they come in.

      They shouldn’t be surprised that people would prefer not to return to work in the depersonalized veal pens.

  11. I would only consider returning to an office if I could go by walking. Bicycles are not an option since where i live rains a lot. Any other transportation is a waste of time and resources.

  12. The scooters retail for $990, so why not just buy them outright and hand them out to any employee who wants to use them to ride to work? Put a Google asset tag on each and keep a record of who has them. then when the employees quit or get fired, it’s up to HR to make sure they return the scooter along with any other company assets they may have.

    1. Would you trust your boss not to GPS track everywhere you go with their scooter?

      Trick question: They are already tracking everywhere you go with their app _your_ phone. Maybe, always listening for keywords.

  13. I think I would prefer they subsidize bicycles and good rain gear, over scooters.

    For the kind of distances you’re going to travel on a scooter, a bike is just a better way to go.

    1. I think that is going to be very situational – I’d expect bike to generally be preferred, however if the commute isn’t hugely in favour of bicycles or even favours the scooter, as it might in more pedestrianized areas or with a train/bus ride involved as well…

      Lets just say I’d definitely use a ‘free’ e-scooter to get to work at least some of the time, and I really enjoy cycling…

      1. Well “pedestrianized areas” probably shouldn’t have scooters zipping around, at least at the bicycle-ish speeds of the ones that are popular around here.

        I can see it being useful for those who need to travel a significant distance to a train, etc, but I do question how many public transit systems will allow them if they get more popular. Trains here are very crowded during peak hours, and those scooters are still rather heavy to be handling on a crowded train.

        I’m not saying I’d be 100% against something like this, but I would hope that any commute subsidy should have other options that are more practical for many people. There are many people who would be better served by a bicycle (electric or otherwise), or a transit pass, than the relatively situational utility of a scooter. Even if it’s not covering the whole thing, I would much rather my company give me an equal amount of $ to put towards maintaining my bike, or buying rain gear, etc, than a scooter, which wouldn’t be pleasant to ride for my 6 mile commute on bumpy roads.

        1. Indeed, its all situational, I can see the scooter being a clear winner whenever you have a commute both sides of a train/bus journey as bikes on trains are almost impossible, and on bus are always impossible here…

          By pedestrianized I was thinking areas full of the gubbins like bins, benches, lamppost all the stuff that if you are allowed to cycle there can actually be a challenge to weave around anyway – obviously if its full of people you have to hope folks ride/scoot/skate sensibly and speeds suitable for the conditions, in the same way just because you can do 100mph in your car, and the speed limit here is 40 doesn’t mean you should do 40 in the heavy rain, fog, while a horde of people are milling around having just been thrown out of the pub etc…

          I think e-scooters are getting popular as they are pretty quick, go almost anywhere, seem have stupidly long range and are rather small – storing a bicycle takes a fair amount of space, locking it up at your destination can be challenging… So I would suggest that ultimately while its not the BEST form of personal transport it does posses the most utility, as you are not stuck having to lock it up only to have some punk slash the tyre, and end up with an hour of walking home with it over your shoulder – not fun at all, and its got a range and speed to get you where you want to go almost as well as a bicycle…

          1. well, the range and speed are typically inversely proportional to the size and weight.
            A lot of the ones I see riding around in the bike lanes are a little portly to be taking on a train, and I expect they’re probably not allowed during peak ours on our trains.

            I think they’re a fine way of getting around for a lot of people, but my point was that there’s probably a similar number of people who would be better served with a subsidized transit pass, or bicycle.

            They could give people the option.

          2. ‘little portly’ I like it as a description, though I don’t think any of them are really big enough to pose problems on a train, the deck might be 2″ thicker and it no doubt weights many times as much as the manual powered ones but ultimately it is still very thin and small – easy to tuck mostly under seats etc…

            As for being allowed, who knows, probably no law or rules either way, but unless you are being a dick about it I can’t see there being a problem – roller suitcase etc are not banned at peak times etc…

            Bikes on the other hand, even the smallest folding commuter bikes are many times larger and much less able to be tucked out the way, so are always awkward on a train.

            I do agree though some extra options would be nice. Though when its being offered for free you can’t really complain, it might not be your preferred option, but hey at least they are offering something that will be useful to some of your colleges if not you…

    1. nope. I was working all the way through, too.

      Particularly annoying when our government was handing out tax breaks for WFH with no receipts/evidence required, when in reality most WFH people’s costs went down (no gasoline/parking/transit passes), and I’m spending extra money so I can set my bike up to ride through the winter and not have to ride the plague train, and they don’t give me jack.

      1. Yes but you’re probably also a young person in a dress.

        I suspect scooters are less popular with people who are older, have more responsibilities, and have a more developed sense of their own mortality.

    1. How can an offer of something for free be discriminatory – you don’t have to take or use it, do whatever you like…

      They could have offered you all nothing and just dragged you all into the office because technically those are the terms of your employment, and you want a job right?

      Also there is no way a company can suddenly find the money or justify in an ever virtue signaling green business world buying you nice cars.

  14. I am way happier, more productive at home. I just don’t understand what’s the point of going back to the office. Luckily I work in a Remote first company because office is more that one hour by commute in the best case scenario (twice a day). I really prefer spending that amount of time at home or moving forward with my tasks to give time some value

  15. Now that I’ve moved my work and my business life to an out of office model I’m never going back. This just works, and works better without all the trappings of lost time that we saddled ourselves with.

  16. August 2020, 5 months into a closed office I said to someone “It’s going to suck when the office opens back up, and I have to quit. I like this job.” I calculated that–conservatively–in the 10 years I was doing a 2.25 hour commute (each way!) I spent a year in trains, subways, on platforms etc. The company went “remote first” a few weeks later.

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