The dramatic changes to the workforce brought about by organisational responses to COVID-19 are likely to accelerate the shift to smart cities, UNSW Sydney experts highlight.
The coronavirus pandemic is reshaping the nature of how work is done in a number of ways. Organisations have had to contend with large swathes of their employees working from home, and it looks like this seismic shift will be permanent in many ways.
“We need to reimagine how workplaces can look like and how they best serve work and add value,” said Frederik Anseel, Associate Dean of Research and Professor of Management at UNSW Business School.
Prof Anseel detailed that the workplace of the future will likely be more flexible with people jointly arranging with their employers when to work from home and when going to the workplace.
“Having people getting stuck in traffic for an hour to arrive at a workplace where they do exactly the same work as they could do at home but much more efficiently, needs to change,” he said.
“This has been an eye-opener for a lot of companies, but also for managers who were suspicious that it couldn’t be done. It can and it should.”
Iva Durakovic, Associate Lecturer at UNSW Built Environment also points to the obvious benefit of hours saved each day on commuting and a shift towards hubs in which people come together.
“If we can at least reduce the number of times that we need to go into the office, if not completely, it will free up productive time that we could [use] working without having that stress of the commute, [or] that we can get back for ourselves so that we have more of a work-life balance,” she said.
Employees are working from home while businesses are cost-cutting and analysing their office space utilisation. Businesses, the property sector and architects are putting their heads together to figure out potential solutions to these challenges.
“Large corporations and companies – they’re never going to let go of an office or headquarters completely – but they may need less space, and commercial real estate will need to be more flexible with that,” said Durakovic.
“We have already seen seismic shifts towards Space as a Service (SPaaS) models as a result of the gig economy with increased demands for lease flexibility and better alignment between workspace and contemporary ways of working. They’re now going to have to get even more creative with how they can multi-purpose certain areas of buildings, be more flexible in the leasing terms and costs to make that work for them financially.”
“Utilising technology and public-facing spaces to advantage and social good, building owners and organisations have an opportunity to amplify the experiences they can offer workers and the community more broadly, particularly outside of typical office hours,” Durakovic added.
Governments around the world have championed the idea of smart cities, and the dramatic changes to the workforce brought about by organisational responses to COVID-19 are only likely to accelerate the shift to smart cities, noted Prof Anseel.
“What I expect is that a new work philosophy will merge with ideas of smart cities. Companies will have smaller workspaces to meet all over the city, closer to peoples’ homes,” he shared.
“This is the concept of the 15-minute city, where people do not need to commute for long times. This will be supported by small-scale workplaces where co-workers meet with each other as well as clients, suppliers and colleagues from other companies – all co-located in these work hubs.”
“Work hubs will also be more embedded in community life, making it easier to flexibly switch from meeting someone, doing some concentrated work at home, go shopping and exercise and go out with friends or colleagues – all in the vicinity of one’s own house and workspace,” Prof Anseel said.
Durakovic agrees: “I think we’re going to get to a place where we’ve got sort of distributed hubs in neighbourhoods or communities, and a central place to come to that means people won’t have to do the exhausting commute every day.”
“We will definitely still need a home base, a connection point to come to and see our colleagues, connect to our professional communities [and] a workplace can provide [that], but it might be a lot smaller.”