Worktech

Street smart: looking to urban innovations to manage the crisis

In our weekly WORKTECH Wednesday Briefing, we look at the impact of the virus on our cities from smart initiatives to transport, the growing tension between hygiene and global sustainability, and the work-at-home adjustments

In the latest of our WORKTECH Wednesday Briefings, created to reach out to our 10,000-plus Academy members, WORKTECH attendees, speakers, partners and sponsors while WORKTECH’s professional live conference series paused due to the coronavirus pandemic, we share perspectives on the latest developments in work and workplace. This edition is posted 12 August 2020.

Reigniting the smart city dialogue

Today’s urban living is falling short of citizens’ increased expectations in the digital age. A new international report from the Capgemini Research Institute found that many citizens are frustrated with the current set-up of the city in which they live and are prepared to leave for a more digitally advanced city. According to the report, sustainability is of increased importance to city dwellers; 36 per cent of respondents listed the lack of sustainability initiatives in their city as a major challenge for them.

However, there is an increased tension between hygiene in a post-Covid-19 era and the sustainability agenda. Single use plastics and masks have arrived back on the scene alongside private vehicles on the road and a step back from public transport – this is stifling the momentum of sustainability before the pandemic. Smart city initiatives can be seen by urbanites as a proactive way to tackle issues of sustainability – 73 per cent, for example, say they’re happier with their quality of life in relation to health factors, such as air quality.

‘Collaboration between stakeholders, such as local government officials, citizens, and corporate organisations is key…’

Capgemini has found that as the world tackles Covid-19, city officials are using technology to address some of the challenges faced. Sixty-eight per cent of city officials have found that digital initiatives, such as apps that connect people to healthcare facilities or provide remote patient monitoring, are helping them manage the crisis.

However, innovative technologies will not in themselves create a smart city. The report underlines that collaboration between stakeholders, such as local government officials, citizens and third parties including start-ups, academic institutes or venture capital funds, is key. A three-phased approach for city officials is set out: create a smart city vision with sustainability and resilience as cornerstones; empower city officials to act as entrepreneurs and, at the same time, ensure data protection and trust; and build a culture of innovation and collaboration with citizens and external entities. Read the report here.

Rethinking the commute

The outbreak of Covid-19 has had a significant impact on urban mobility. As cities around the world have started to ease lockdown restrictions, authorities have created dedicated bike lanes and walkways so residents can practice physical distancing while being able to commute. According to the World Bank, nearly 300 cities and regions have implemented people-friendly streets initiatives that allow residents to bike and walk within their city.

Urban mobility will likely see an uptake in shared micro-mobility with residents selectively choosing when to take public transportation. For cities to manage these upcoming changes, authorities will need to leverage technology to enable them to implement three essential solutions to help increase safety and sustainability of micro-mobility services, deploy efficient on-demand mass transit and optimise urban mobility solutions. By integrating technology into their transportation networks, cities will not only be able to provide customised mobility solutions for residents but also redesign a more sustainable urban transportation system to manage Covid-19.

A recent report by the McKinsey Centre for Future Mobility found that consumers have started to prioritise health over time-to-destination following the pandemic. As a result of these changing priorities, consumers have started to prefer private cars, bikes and walking as their primary mode of transportation, with a declining perception and usage for shared mobility services (SMS). However, despite the short-term decline, McKinsey is projecting a strong recovery for SMS in the medium and long term. The report foresees that enhanced safety measures and support from cities to promote SMS as an alternative to private car ownership will drive growth after the Covid-19 crisis. Read the full report here.

Working without an office

A study by Harvard Business Review indicates that working from home is becoming the ‘new normal’. A survey of more than 600 US-based white-collar employees showed that workers adjusted to working virtually more quickly than the leaders had initially feared they would, in many cases the workers reported that they were as productive at home as they were before.

Of course, the abrupt switch the remote work was not without its growing pains. Job satisfaction and engagement fell sharply after two weeks of working virtually, but they recovered sharply by the end of the second month.

Now the tide is changing as the initial stress, negative emotions and task-related conflicts are starting the alleviate, falling by 10 per cent since all-virtual work began. At the same time, employees have experienced an approximately 10 per cent improvement in self-efficacy and their capacity to pay attention to their work. Today, employees report that they are ‘falling into a consistent routine’.

While many articles have focused on the negative impacts of working from home, this study highlights the positive transition many employees have made to completely virtual work despite its challenges. Not only are employees starting the adapt to this new way of working, it also benefits the needs of businesses. If managed correctly through human ingenuity, leadership and organisational support, the move to remote working can be a more permanent success for everyone in the organisation. Read the full report here.

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