Packed tube passengers

Is it time to rethink work and cities?

With so much upheaval and disruption due to the pandemic, is it not a good time to reflect on and rethink our needs as a society and as a civilisation? This is an opportunity to reset, to make big changes that would benefit us, humanity and our planet too.

The obvious starting point might be to look at the way we work and where we do that work. Big cities act as magnets, drawing workers in from satellite suburbs, via major commuter routes. While there are many people that worked from home pre-pandemic, the various lockdowns have forced many others to work remotely. This has opened up opportunities by removing previous obstacles that some faced when considering working not in the company premises. These obstacles may not have been physical, but often more about attitude and trust. Both employers and employees have had to review these very quickly. There are always certain roles that cannot realistically be carried out remotely. Although I believe that most office-based roles could, with the right infrastructure and support, be efficiently performed by teams or individuals not located in the same office space.

For those working from home, our domestic internet infrastructure needs to be more reliable. Bandwidth demand has soared, both inside households with multiple people trying to work through a shared connection and across the network exchanges too.

We need to consider the physical spaces, especially for those that share homes. It can be hard enough to find a single space to work but multiply that by the number of people within a house and it becomes more difficult. On top of these work needs, students and pupils are having to learn at home and they require their own space too.

The one thing that needs less space, is the company. Blocks upon block of office space within multiple cities is currently sitting empty and may never be filled to the capacity they were designed to house. These offices could offer spacious apartments with only a comparatively small amount of work. They would also offer a great infrastructure for home-working too by utilising their existing services. Other current office space should be converted into starter apartments to reduce our housing shortage, helping to remove the need for those sleeping rough on the streets.

With a reduction in office space and better connectivity, people could move further out from city centres and the commuter-belts. In turn helping to boost local economies, reducing or even removing the need to commute – less traffic, less pollution, better air for all of us. This dispersion could also help to rebalance property prices, which could lead to a more even investment in towns and villages across the country and outside the traditional commuter routes. With people spreading out we may also benefit from more personal space, forming smaller, closer communities where individuals look after eachother providing better support and less mental loads. Which may also reduce some of the pressure on NHS and social services too. There’s so much more to this and now may be a good time to think about it.

Photo by Filippo Andolfatto on Unsplash

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