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How Employees Commute is a Factor of Well-Being at Syros Pharmaceuticals

Green Streets Initiative is highlighting workplaces competing in our 2019 Commuter Challenge that demonstrate particular enthusiasm for active and sustainable commuting. Syros Pharmaceuticals, a Cambridge, MA-based biotech company of 80 employees working on cutting-edge genomic research to develop medicines that control the expression of genes, is one of these organizations. We had a chance to visit Syros this summer to learn more about their office and commuting culture through conversations with seven employees, including CEO Nancy Simonian and Chief Scientific Officer Eric Olson. These conversations gave us a view into their values of well-being and environmental sustainability and their vibrant cycling culture.

Syros employees posing next to their office building’s protected bike parking structure

A busy and data-driven group, Syros employees optimize their commute just as they optimize their work day. Scientists and staff view commuting as important times for engaging in activities that promote well-being and productivity. Syros supports employees’ commuting choices with excellent commuter benefits, including fully covered T and commuter rail passes and a $75 a month active transportation benefit.

While many employees live far from the Cambridgeport office, this doesn’t stop them from commuting actively and/or sustainably. Several employees bike over 30 miles one or two days a week from suburbs such as Wayland and Framingham while others take public transportation. One scientist takes advantage of the fully subsidized commuter rail pass for his commute from Natick and another combines Uber/Lyft, the Green Line and walking to commute from Chestnut Hill. While cyclists who travel far do need to drive in between bike commuting days or when the weather isn’t favorable for cycling, many choose to drive energy efficient cars (fully electric or hybrid).

CEO Nancy understands that supporting employees’ commuting choices is important for their well-being. Indeed, many studies echo the benefits of commuting by bike and foot for staff productivity and psychological well-being. Middle-aged active commuters report feelings of relaxation, enthusiasm, and satisfaction once they arrive at the office.

Nancy is a sustainable commuting role model for employees as she occasionally bikes the 34 miles to and from Wayland or drives her hybrid car. She keeps a bike in the office to ride to meetings in Kendall Square, switching effortlessly between sneakers and heels tucked in her bag. “There’s nothing better for your mind than being outside for 15-20 minutes during the day,” she explained.

Scientist Brian Johnston chooses the fully subsidized commuter rail pass that he uses for his commute from Natick to Fenway, followed by a 20-minute walk through the Boston University campus. He chose to live in Natick because of the easy commuter rail access. His time on the train is spent catching up on emails and preparing for the work day in the lab.

Charlie, Mudit, Stephen and VP of Corporate Communications Naomi, who made these interviews possible!

Scientist Mudit Chaand chooses the fully subsidized T pass to commute from Chestnut Hill (D line train stop). Because of the company’s flexible work hours, he is able to avoid crowded trains and says his trip helps him get ready for the day as it combines the right dose of activity and reflection.

Receptionist Stephen Read commutes 35 minutes by foot from Allston in all weather. During his 15 months at Syros, he has never once had to alter his walking commute and is prepared for rain by packing a change of clothes, rain pants/coat and an umbrella. He enjoys being able to enjoy the Charles River scenery instead of focusing on the road.

As for avid cyclists Chief Scientific Officer Eric Olson, Scientist and Green Streets Commuter Challenge Ambassador Kristin Hamman, and Head of New Product Planning Charlie Pak, commuting by bike is a way to get exercise into their day. Eric loves team sports but found himself frequently injured. When Eric’s wife gave him a membership pass for a spin class, he started cycling and quickly became “hooked”. He alternates between several types of bikes to get to work and uses cycling as his main form of exercise.

Charlie commutes to and from Wayland by bike twice a week. He alternates his cycling commute with a hybrid car and scooter trip. Charlie described biking as more time effective than driving: “driving paradoxically takes longer, and I don’t get my exercise,” he said. He finds his bike ride to be less scary than his scooter commute; more than half of the 17-mile bike commute is via a low-stress bike path while he takes the highway with the scooter.

Cycling has become a popular mode of transportation among Syros employees. Nancy described the “infectious quality” that the strong bike culture has created at the office, which has influenced several employees to switch their commute mode to biking. Nancy, Eric, Charlie, Kristin and other Syros staff also participate in the annual 100 mile Prouty bike ride charity for cancer. Eric is on the foundation board that organizes the Prouty ride, and Nancy hosts the staff at her Vermont house following the event. Cycling is not only a form of commuting and exercise for Syros employees but also a philanthropic and bonding experience with colleagues.

Syros employees at the 38th Annual Prouty Charity Bike Ride

Nancy and Kristin used to work for Takeda Pharmaceuticals, the company that initially incorporated the Green Streets mission into the workplace and launched the Commuter Challenge. Kristin brought the Challenge and monthly Walk/Ride Days to Syros upon joining the firm to contribute to the office's sustainability goals. She has also introduced other sustainability activities to the firm, such as composting. She enjoys her Green Streets role, she explained, because it gives her the opportunity to talk to colleagues about their commute and trade notes with fellow cyclists. She particularly appreciates how enthusiastic cyclists are when they talk about their commute.

Syros is an expanding company that has long outgrown its current Cambridgeport space. The company will be moving to a larger space in Alewife, next to the red line T stop, at the end of 2019. A key driver of this location decision were the results of an employer commuter survey, which revealed that access to public transportation was important for most employees and ruled out locations accessible only by car. The new building is also adjacent to a key commuter bike path, the Minuteman trail.

Our visit to Syros left us with the impression of an active, collaborative and personable company where employees are free to be themselves and commute in their own style.

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