First of all approach your employer with the proposition that the company provide a pool cycle. A soft sell approach which points out the benefits of having a fit and active workforce may do the trick. If members of staff regularly carry out short errands--pickups and deliveries of small items or paperwork, lunch runs--using a car, you may be able to demonstrate a real cost benefit if cycling would reduce travel time on crowded streets, gasoline and insurance costs, and more time wasted looking for parking at the destination. The big downtown law firms in most cities--including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York--employ bicycle messengers for precisely this reason, and all the major Hollywood studios provide pool bikes for employees to use within their vast compounds.
If your employer won't be part with the cash, take matters into your own hands and post an ad on the company bulletin board. Every year many serviceable bicycles are discarded to make way for this year's Christmas present, and you may find that colleagues willing to donate a bike, especially if they will also benefit from having the use of their old cycle at work.
No luck with this either? If enough of your fellow workers club together you should be able to raise enough cash for a decent second-hand bike. This has the advantage that users will each have a stakehold and will, one hopes, treat the bike (and lock it up) more carefully.
Once you have a bike you will need someone to take bookings and hold the keys. It is sensible to keep the bike locked even if it is parked safely indoors as that way no one can ride off inadvertently without having a key for locking up when when they reach their destination. Whilst all users should do the basic safety checks (tyres pumped? brakes OK?) before each trip, one of the regular users with a bit of mechanical ability must be "volunteered" to look after maintenance and puncture repairs. Don't ask them to do jobs outside their competence though-the really difficult repairs may need professional help
Good Lord! They Gave You the Money! Now what?
If you have a generous employer the ultimate pool bike will be a fully-equipped city bike with built-in lights, fenders, and luggage rack, as well as a seven speed hub gear for cleanliness and ease of maintenance. [The Specialized Globe 7, currently well under $400.00US, is a good example.-Ed.] Don't be tempted to blow the boss's cash on a state-of-the-art full suspension mountain bike, as it will be far too attractive to thieves.
If you are reduced to looking in dumpsters for your bike you will find that an old 26"-wheeled roadster with a basket on the front--such are used quite effectively by, among others, pizza delivery riders in downtown Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, and will work as well as anything else if you don't have any outrageous hills nearby. If hills are a problem, your local bike shop may be able to supply a larger rear sprocket for a few dollars, which will help.
Resist the temptation to use a small-wheeled shopper. You will be amazed at how many people offer to give you one. When they do, advise them to throw it into the canal where it will provide an interesting habitat for small fish. They are often unstable even on good roads and dangerous on bumpy or broken surfaces.
Whatever your budget may be, the chosen bike must be rideable by the maximum possible range of sizes and shapes. An open frame design will allow a single bike to cater for men and women, but may require some PR along the lines of "Real men aren't afraid to be seen on a lady's bike." Frame size however is a bit of a compromise. A 19" frame will fit the majority of adults with the help of a long seatpin and quick release so that the saddle height can be adjusted to the correct level for each rider--this in fact is already a feature of most mountain bikes. To deter saddle theft a cheap cable lock can be used to fix the saddle permanently to the frame without restricting adjustment. Conveniently, as most women are shorter but prefer higher handlebars than men that adjustment can be left at a middle setting. A broad saddle will favour lady riders without causing too much grief to male behinds during the short journeys for which the bike will be used.
Useful accessories include rack and panniers, a bell, kickstand, and a set of dynamo lights if the bike is going to be used after dark.
If you want to have a helmet to lend to users search out one with a quick adjuster to fit different head sizes. I found one marketed by Raleigh which has a knob on the side which is turned to tighten a harness which firmly grips the head. Unless a helmet is a good fit it doesn't protect the rider, and casual users won't be bothered to fiddle around changing foam pads and adjusting straps to make a borrowed helmet fit properly.