Post-pandemic working will not trigger a mass exodus from the cities, but the systems that help us to negotiate our way there must change
Almost everyone has been affected by the pandemic. For some of us, the last year has been life changing. For many, it has forced us, sometimes even allowed us, to re-evaluate our lives. Reassess the places we live and how we get around. Has Covid-19 perhaps also opened our eyes to a new work/life balance?
For the organisations that are involved in how we run our cities and transport systems, the pandemic has been dramatic. From planning for a 10% rise to catering for just 10% of the normal traffic, it has made nearly every transport business unviable and needing government support.
The new paradigm has been many people’s ability to work from home. But this is not a level playing field. Adapting to fully working from home has been easier for middle-aged white-collar workers in large homes but challenging for those in their early twenties who gain most from being in the office and learning from their colleagues.
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Only a small percentage of low-paid jobs can be done remotely. Research also shows that productivity gains of home working are quickly offset by slower career progression and a reduction in innovation and team coherence.
There is a lot of research about the new hybrid working model, but much like the TV did not mark the end of the radio, remote working will not trigger a mass exodus from our cities either. We will still want to be in offices and in city centres in the future. The lure of being together, the gravitational pull of crowds, are part of what it is to be human.
As we re-emerge from Covid-19, many of us are now more discerning about how we get around, when we go to work, and how we plan our commute. The future commute needs a heightened focus on people’s experiences. We ought to work harder to connect with audiences, to encourage and enable people to be together.
It sounds obvious – urban places and public transit are complex, poorly explained and painful to use; they are the opposite of encouraging. We have become accustomed to opaqueness. They are complex because cities are large and we’re talking some big numbers. London has 675 bus routes, with around 9,000 buses and over 19,000 bus stops.
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In normal times they transport two billion people a year. Studies show that before questions of price and comfort come into play, the main question is where does a service go and how reliable is the information? Understanding is the first ingredient in moving the dial.
When organisations focus on their audiences’ experience, they can create significant change for the better. It’s a natural evolution that the pandemic has brought the end-user experience into tighter focus. If we tackle the feelings of being lost, we can help people feel safe.
This will be achieved by integrating the nuances and brilliance of the tech industry mobile world with public services and operators; information in our pocket, and simplified systems using language that is easy to learn. When consumers are aware of the present – their options laid out in one place – they will have a chance to route around disruption, join events and better enjoy places where they want to be.
When the pandemic is only a memory, the climate emergency will be a more present and significant challenge. Self-powered and shared modes of transport are essential to enable cities to move enormous numbers of people around more efficiently and creating the understanding to allow people the travel freedom they desire will be an essential part of the solution.
Image by Ono Kosuki, Pexels
As featured in OnOffice 157, Winter 2021. Read a digital version of the issue for free here.